Thousands of displaced Iraqis flee militants as US warplanes strike
In contrast to Washington's decision to invade Iraq more than a decade ago, both the airdrop and the authorization of military action against the Islamic State group were widely welcomed by Iraqi and Kurdish officials fearful of the militants' lightning advance.
"We thank Barack Obama," said Khalid Jamal Alber, from the Religious Affairs Ministry in the semi-autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq.
The Iraqi Ministry of Immigration and the Displaced also welcomed the aid drops. Ministry spokesman Satar Nawrouz said the drops came "just in time."
About 50,000 Yazidis are believed to have fled into the mountains outside Sinjar. An Iraqi military handout video posted online showed Iraqi troops in helicopters also delivering aid to the area. The footage corresponds to AP reporting of events.
The Islamic State group captured Mosul in June, and then launched a blitz toward the south, sweeping over Sunni-majority towns nearly down to the capital, Baghdad. It already holds large parts of western Iraq, as well as large swaths of the north and east in neighboring Syria.
Iraqi government forces crumbled in the face of the assault, but have since been able to prevent the militants from advancing into Shiite-majority areas. In the north, the Kurds have been the main line of defense against the radicals, but their fighters are now stretched over a long front trying to fend them off.
Now it is expanding in the north. On Thursday the group said it has seized 17 Iraqi cities, towns and targets — including the dam and a military base — over the past five days, including Qaraqoush, the largest Christian village in Iraq. The group also claimed responsibility for a deadly attack in Baghdad that killed 17 people late Thursday. In a statement posted Friday on a militant website frequently used by the group, it said that the attack was a double suicide bombing.
Iraqi Kurdish lawmaker, Ala Talabani said that a real U.S. military help is badly needed now.
"What the Iraqi people need from the United States is strong and aggressive airstrikes instead of limited ones because the situation is very delicate and cannot be solved with limited actions," he said.
Traveling in India, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said earlier Friday that if Islamic militants threaten U.S. interests in Iraq or the thousands of refugees in the mountains, the U.S. military has enough intelligence to clearly single out the attackers and launch effective airstrikes.
He also told reporters that more than 60 of the 72 bundles of food and water airdropped onto the mountain reached the people stranded there.
A representative of Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called for a more comprehensive international intervention to support the Iraqi government.
"The statements of condemnation or consolation in support of the affected people or just sending humanitarian aid are not enough. Rather, solid plans, in cooperation with the Iraqi government, should be put in place to confront and eliminate the terrorists," said al-Sistani's spokesman Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie in his Friday sermon in the holy city of Karbala.
Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub and Vivian Salama in Baghdad, Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Boston and Lolita Baldor in New Delhi contributed to this report.
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