Thousands flee as Islamist fighters surge towards Kurdish capital
US President Barack Obama is reportedly considering airstrikes and emergency relief airdrops to help 40,000 religious minorities in Iraq who are trapped on a mountaintop after threats by Islamic militants.
The possible intervention comes as Islamic State fighters surged across northern Iraq towards the capital of the Kurdish region yesterday, sending tens of thousands of Christians fleeing for their lives.
The Sunni militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on Kurdish forces at the weekend, prompting tens of thousands from the ancient Yazidi community to flee the town of Sinjar for surrounding mountains. Some of the many thousands trapped on Sinjar mountain have been rescued in the past 24 hours, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, adding that 200,000 people had fled the fighting.
"This is a tragedy of immense proportions, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people," spokesman David Swanson said.
A spokesman for the UN agency for children said many of the children on the mountain were suffering from dehydration and at least 40 had died.
Obama has been looking at a range of options, from dropping humanitarian supplies on Mount Sinjar to military strikes on fighters from the Islamic State who are at the base of the mountain, a senior administration official told The New York Times.
Photographs showed Islamic State fighters controlling a checkpoint at the border area of the Kurdish semi-autonomous region, little over 30 minutes' drive from Arbil, which has the headquarters to the Kurdish regional government.
Sunni militants earlier captured Iraq's biggest Christian town, Qaraqosh, prompting many residents to flee, fearing they would be subjected to the same demands the Sunni militants made in other captured areas - leave, convert to Islam or face death.
The Islamic State sees Iraq's majority Shiites and minorities such as Christians and Yazidis, a Kurdish ethno-religious community, as infidels.
France yesterday called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to "counter the terrorist threat in Iraq".
The militant group said its fighters had seized 15 towns, the strategic Mosul dam on the Tigris River and a military base.
Kurdish officials say their forces still control the dam, Iraq's biggest. But two witnesses said Islamic State fighters had hoisted the group's black flag over the dam, which could allow the militants to flood major cities or cut off significant water supplies and electricity.