France on Thursday pledged “support” for forces battling Islamic militants in Iraq amid growing Western concern over continuing advances by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS or ISIL).
"The president confirmed that France was available to support forces engaged in this battle," President François Hollande's office said in a statement, after the French leader spoke about Iraq by telephone with the head of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Massud Barzani.
Hollande did not specify what form the "support" could take. However, a French diplomatic source said the country was prepared to offer technical support to the forces of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, but would stop short of military assistance.
“France envisages support of a technical nature and no military assistance properly speaking is on the agenda,” the source told Reuters.
Obama ‘considering strikes’
Fighters from ISIS, which now calls itself the Islamic State, have swept across swathes of Iraq’s Sunni heartland since launching an offensive two months ago, attacking several towns and villages east of its main hub of Mosul, the country's second-largest city.
The group, which has declared an Islamist caliphate in the areas it controls in Iraq and Syria, has continued an advance across northern Iraq in recent days towards the capital of the Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of Christians and other religious minorities fleeing for their lives.
According to a New York Times report Thursday, US President Barack Obama is considering airstrikes against ISIS to aid 40,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority who have become stranded on Sinjar mountain in northern Iraq after fleeing an attack by ISIS fighters.
The newspaper quoted an unnamed White House official as saying the President was weighing possible airstrikes, as well as emergency relief airdrops, to aid the stranded civilians.
But White House spokesman Josh Earnest refused to confirm the reports.
"I'm not in a position to rule things on the table or off the table in this context,” he told reporters in Washington DC.
However, he warned that there were “no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq”.
The fate of the Yazidi civilians, who have little access to food or water, has sparked international concern and Earnest said it was a situation the US was “looking at very closely”.
"These actions have exacerbated an already dire humanitarian crisis and the situation is nearing a humanitarian catastrophe," he said.
"We're concerned about the welfare of the large community of Iraqi Yazidis who are stranded on Mount Sinjar without food, water or shelter and the Iraqi Christians who have been forced to flee from their villages in the region.”
France calls emergency UN meeting
At France's request, the UN Security Council was due to hold an emergency meeting on Iraq later Thursday, after ISIS seized the country's largest Christian town, Qaraqosh.
The talks were scheduled to begin at 5.30pm (2130 GMT), a diplomatic source said.
"France is very deeply concerned by the latest advances of (ISIS militants) in the north of Iraq and the taking of Qaraqosh, the biggest Christian city in Iraq, as well as by the intolerable abuses that were committed," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.
"Given the seriousness of the situation – the first victims of which are civilians and religious minorities – France is requesting an urgent meeting of the Security Council so the international community can mobilise to counter the terrorist threat in Iraq and support and protect the population at risk," he said.
ISIS moved into Qaraqosh and other towns overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish peshmerga troops, residents said.
Religious leaders said ISIS militants have forced 100,000 Christians to flee and have occupied churches, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts.
The UN council on Tuesday condemned attacks by ISIS fighters in Iraq and warned that those responsible for the violence could face trial for crimes against humanity.
The council warned that ISIS posed a threat not only to Iraq and Syria but to "regional peace, security and stability".
"Widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian populations because of their ethnic background, religion or belief may constitute a crime against humanity, for which those responsible must be held accountable," said the statement read by British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-08-07