US President Barack Obama makes an announcement about the
humanitarian relief situation in Iraq, at the State Dining
Room of the White House in Washington. REUTERS/Larry
US President Barack Obama says he has authorised air
strikes against Islamist militants in Iraq to protect American
personnel and launched humanitarian assistance to prevent a
genocide of members of a religious minority who have fled their
The president, in remarks carried live over network
television, said he has begun operations to assist Iraqis
stranded on a mountain to escape the advancing forces of the
Islamist State, which have swept across northern Iraq in
"When we face a situation like we do on that mountain, with
innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific
scale, when we have a mandate to help in this case a request
from the Iraqi government, and when we have the unique
capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the
United States of America cannot turn a blind eye," Obama
"We can act carefully and responsibly to prevent a potential
act of genocide," he said.
Obama said he had authorized the US military to take targeted
strikes against militants if they advanced toward the Kurdish
capital of Arbil or threatened Americans anywhere in the
"We intend to stay vigilant and take action if these
terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities
anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Arbil and our
embassy in Baghdad." he said.
The Islamic State's Sunni militants, an offshoot of al Qaeda,
have come within a 30 minute drive of Arbil and inflicted a
humiliating defeat on Kurdish forces over the weekend,
prompting tens of thousands from the ancient Yazidi community
to flee the town of Sinjar for surrounding mountains.
Any air strikes would represent the first combat action by
the United States in Iraq since it ended eight years of war
in 2011. Earlier this year the United States sent a small
number of military advisers to help the Iraqi government
address the threat of the Islamic militant offensive.
Near the White House earlier in the day, some 80 people
protested for hours on behalf of the Yazidis, shaking US
flags, chanting slogans and holding up signs condemning what
they called a holocaust of Christian communities in Iraq and
Syria by the Islamic State.
Obama said any US operations would be limited, and pledged
not to allow the United States to be dragged into another war
"Even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these
terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to
fight in Iraq," he said. "The only lasting solution is
reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi
The Defense Department said it had dropped 72 bundles of food
and water to the Iraqis fleeing the militants.
The Islamist fighters, who have killed many thousands and
declared a caliphate in the Iraqi area they conquered, are
now threatening Kurdistan, a region previously considered a
bastion of stability in a country ravaged by conflict.