The US has authorized airstrikes in northern Iraq following militant advances in the north of the country. President Barack Obama says the humanitarian and security situation necessitates immediate action.
Obama on Friday (late Thursday local time) said the US had begun aid airdrops in Iraq's restive north, and would begin targeted airstrikes against militants from the "Islamic State" (IS) "if necessary."
IS militants moved towards the Kurdish capital of Irbil on Thursday, seizing Iraq's main Christian city of Qaraqosh and forcing tens of thousands to flee.
"To stop the advance on Irbil I've directed our military to take targeted strikes against [IS] terrorist convoys should they move towards the city," Obama told reporters in Washington, adding the US would assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the region.
The US has a diplomatic consul and military operations center in Irbil.
Not 'another Iraq war'
The president was adamant that the new military operations did not mean the US was going to "be dragged into fighting another Iraq war." However, IS' actions in the region, particularly its treatment of religious minorities and women, necessitates intervention, he said.
"We can act, carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential act of genocide," Obama said. "I therefore authorized targeted airstrikes if necessary to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege and protect civilians trapped there."
"When we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America should not turn a blind eye," he added. "Today America is coming to help."
Kurdish officials told media Tuesday that US airstrikes targeting IS militants near Irbil had already begun in northern Iraq. However, a Pentagon spokesman at the time called those reports "completely false," saying "no such action" had yet been taken.
UN urges international support
At an emergency session of the Security Council on Thursday, the UN called on the international community to help the Iraqi government and civilians.
"The members of the Security Council call on the international community to support the government and people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population affected by the current conflict in Iraq," said Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, who is serving as the council's president for August.
"It's quite clear that [IS] has expanded its attacks very widely into Kurdish areas," Grant told reporters. "There was a deep alarm in the Security Council about the speed of events."
dr/av (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)