Western diplomacy and aid efforts are shaping up in Iraq to avert what US President Barack Obama warned could be an impending “genocide” against civilians besieged on a mountain in the country’s north by fighters from the Islamic State group.
US fighter jets on Sunday continued to strike positions belonging to the self-declared jihadists whose attack on Sinjar Mountain last week sent thousands, many of them from the Yazidi minority, fleeing to a nearby mountain.
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Peshmerga fighters were able to rescue some of those stranded on Sinjar Mountain on Saturday but those who remain face searing summer heat with little food and water.
US and Iraqi cargo planes have been dropping food and water over the region, a barren 60km ridge. The UK joined the effort overnight.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived in Iraq on Sunday, where he is due to oversee the first delivery of French aid for displaced people.
Fabius urged Iraq’s bickering leaders to form an inclusive government capable of countering the Islamic State’s advance through the north of the country.
“Iraq is in need of a wide unity government, and all Iraqis should feel that they are represented in this government, and all Iraqis should feel they are represented to take part in this battle against terrorism,” Fabius told a news conference with his Iraqi counterpart in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, Kurdish military sources have told Al Jazeera’s Jane Arraf in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil that the villages of Ghwar and Makhmour, which lie 40km south of Erbil, have been retaken by Peshmerga forces.
The development came after another round of US airstrikes there earlier on Sunday.
Ghwar is important because of its access to Erbil, while Makhmour is strategic because access to Kirkuk runs through it.
The US aerial assault aims to allow the federal and Kurdish governments to claw back areas lost in the conflict.
The US military said it had attacked Islamic State targets throughout Sunday, successfully conducting multiple airstrikes using fighter planes and drones to defend Kurdish forces near Erbil, where US personnel and citizens are located.
In a statement, US Central Command said US aircraft had destroyed or damaged several Islamic State armed vehicles and a mortar position, which had been fighting against Kurdish forces located in the approaches to Erbil.
On Sunday, Iraq’s human rights minister said the Islamic State group has killed at least 500 members of the Yazidi ethnic minority during their offensive.
Mohammed Shia al-Sudani said fighters had also buried alive some of their victims, including women and children. About 300 women were kidnapped as slaves, he added.
Federal Iraqi forces completely folded when the Islamic State fighters, who already control a large swathe of Syria, swept in from the northeast two months ago, took the second largest city, Mosul, and advanced into much of the country’s Sunni heartland.
The cash-strapped autonomous Kurdish region’s Peshmerga force have struggled to roll back the losses.
Obama, speaking on Saturday, did not give a timetable for the US military intervention but said that Iraq’s problems would not be solved in weeks. “This is going to be a long-term project,” he said.
The president ruled out the deployment of US combat troops to fight in Iraq.