Iraq conflict: U.S. launches new airstrikes on ISIS militants

The U.S. military says it has conducted four more airstrikes on Islamic militants in Iraq, after U.S. President Barack Obama proposed a broader long-term strategy to confront militants. A Foreign Affairs spokesman tells CBC that Canada condemns the ISIS attacks, and may provide more humanitarian aid.

Foreign Affairs tells CBC that Canada condemns 'repugnant killing of innocent civilians' in Iraq

The U.S. military says American jet fighters and drones have conducted four more airstrikes on Islamic militants in Iraq, taking out armoured carriers and a truck that were firing on civilians.

U.S. Central Command says the strikes were spread out, with three before noon ET on Saturday and one about 3 p.m.

The military says indications suggest that the strikes were successful in destroying the armoured vehicles.

This is the third round of airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS) forces by the U.S. military since they were authorized by President Barack Obama.

Shortly after word of the latest attacks was reported, a spokesman with Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs told CBC, "Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms ISIS terrorists' repugnant killing of innocent civilians in northern Iraq, including women and children, Christian, Yazidi and other religious communities." 

"Our government is consulting with like-minded countries to determine how Canada will continue to support the humanitarian needs of Iraqi civilians," Alex Asselin said in an email late Saturday. 

Asselin said that since the beginning of this year, Canada has provided over $16 million to respond to humanitarian needs in Iraq, of which $6.8 million was for populations affected by civil unrest and $9.6 million for Syrian refugees.

As of June 2014, Iraq has been on the list of Canada's development country partners, enabling further support, he said. 

Obama justifies return to fighting

Earlier Saturday, Obama justified the U.S. military's return to fighting in Iraq by saying America must act now to prevent genocide, protect its diplomats and provide humanitarian aid to refugees trapped by Islamic militants on a
mountain ridge near the Syrian border.

"This is going to be a long-term project" that won't end and can't succeed unless Iraqis form an inclusive government in Baghdad capable of keeping the country from breaking apart, Obama said on the South Lawn of the White House, just before boarding Marine One for his summer vacation in Massachusetts.

Obama spoke after airstrikes from U.S. fighter jets and a drone killed several small groups of ISIS extremists that were attacking Kurdish forces and refugees. The military support helped clear the way for aid flights to drop food and water to thousands of starving refugees.

But the help comes too late for many of the religious minorities targeted for elimination by the Islamic State group, which swept past U.S.-trained and equipped Iraqi government forces in recent weeks and now controls much of Iraq.

A delayed response by the Shia-led government in Baghdad left Kurdish forces struggling to contain the Sunni extremists' advances.

U.S. military again drops supplies to refugees

With nowhere to go but uphill, Kurdish-speaking Yazidi refugees sought shelter in the Sinjar mountains, where their ancient religion holds that Noah's ark came to rest.

The U.S. military has dropped food and water for a third time to thousands of Iraqi refugees stranded on Mount Sinjar.

U.S. Central Command said in a statement Saturday night that the latest airdrop involved planes from multiple air bases, and included one C-17 and two C-130 cargo planes. Fighter aircraft flew in support of the airdrop. Officials say the aircraft delivered 72 bundles of supplies, including more than 3,800 gallons of water and more than 16,000 meals.
Iraqi Yazidi women demonstrate outside the UN offices in the Iraqi city of Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, on Aug. 4. (Safin Hamed/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraq's Defence Ministry released a video showing people in the Sinjar mountains rushing to collect food and water as the Iraqi government's fleet of C130 cargo planes dropped 20 tons of aid at a time.

But at least 56 children have died of dehydration in the mountains, UNICEF's spokesman in Iraq, Karim Elkorany, told The Associated Press on Saturday.

British officials estimated Saturday between 50,000 and 150,000 people could be trapped on the mountain.

And Juan Mohammed, a local government spokesman in the Syrian city of Qamishli, told the AP that more than 20,000 starving Yazidis are fleeing across the border, braving gunfire through a tenuous "safe passage" that Kurdish peshmerga forces are trying to protect.

Some women lost their children along the way because of exhaustion and fear, and at least nine Kurdish fighters were killed while defending the columns of refugees, Mohammed said.

"They are barefoot, tired and left everything behind" in Iraq, Mohammed said. Without significant help soon, those who haven't crossed yet "will be subjected to genocide."

The U.S. military officially withdrew its combat forces in late 2011 after more than eight years of war. It returned to battle Friday when the two F/A-18 jets dropped 228-kg bombs on Islamic State fighters outside Irbil.

Impact of hit not clear, general says

Gen. Ahmed, the peshmerga spokesman at the Khazer checkpoint on the frontline outside Erbil, said it was a "good hit," but the impact wasn't yet clear. The Kurdish general spoke on condition his last name not be used.

Obama was adamant Saturday that U.S. troops can't bring peace to Iraq.

"We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there's not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There's going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support," he said.

The Pentagon said the militants were using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, home to a U.S. consulate and about three dozen U.S. military trainers.
Airstrikes by the U.S. forces marked the first time U.S. forces have directly targeted the extremist Islamic State group known as ISIS, which controls large areas of Syria and Iraq. (Khalid Mohammed/The Associated Press)

Iraq's embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki waited until Monday to call in aerial reinforcements for Kurdish fighters trying to contain the Islamic State's advance. It was his government's first show of co-operation with the semi-autonomous Kurdish regional government since Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, fell to the extremists in June.

And so Kurdish officials were particularly pleased by the return of U.S. air support as well as the military trainers co-ordinating tactical responses with Kurdish peshmerga forces in the Kurdish capital of Erbil.

"Airstrikes are intended to degrade the terrorists' capabilities and achieve strategic gains -- and have been very effective, said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd.

Many of America's allies have backed the U.S. intervention since the Yazidis plight gained attention. British forces are co-ordinating aid drops with the U.S. and more broadly, trying to figure out how to help the refugees escape from "a completely unacceptable situation," British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said.

The Yazidis follow an ancient religion, with roots in Zoroastrianism, which the Islamic State (ISIS) considers heretical and has vowed to destroy. The extremist group also considers Shia Muslims to be apostates, and has demanded that Christians convert to Islam, pay a special tax, or be killed.

Yazidi women seized by militants

Hundreds of Yazidi women have been seized by the militants, and their families say some were being held in schools in Mosul, said Kamil Amin, the spokesman for Iraq's Human Rights Ministry.
The militant group Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, has prompted tens of thousands of Yazidis and Christians to flee for their lives during their push to within a 30-minute drive of the Kurdish regional capital Arbil. (Reuters)

"We think that the terrorists by now consider them slaves and they have vicious plans for them," Amin told The Associated Press.

The militants have expanded north, west and south from their stronghold in Mosul to capture Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam and reservoir in recent weeks. They also pushed southward through Sunni-majority towns almost to Baghdad, and now hold large parts of western Iraq as well as swaths of neighbouring Syria.

Ethnic and religious minorities fearing slaughter have fled. The UN said more than 500,000 people have been displaced by the violence in Iraq since June, bringing this year's total to well over one million.

Iraqi government forces initially crumbled, but have since been able to prevent the militants from advancing into Shiite-majority areas. In the north, the Kurds have been the main line of defence.

ISIS posted a video online Saturday demonstrating their conquests, including government offices in Kurdish Sinjar and the Mosul Dam, which fell to the militants on Thursday. Militants are seen insulting Kurdish President Massoud Barzani by beating his picture with their shoes and slippers.
The U.S. said Islamic rebels had been using the artillery to shell Kurdish forces defending Erbil where U.S. personnel are located. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

Obama said the U.S. will focus on helping refugees, eliminating terrorists, protecting Americans and keeping "key infrastructure" intact so that the Islamic State group can't permanently cripple Iraq before an inclusive government can form.

Sunnis in Iraq and Syria have "felt dissatisfied and detached and alienated from their respective governments. And that has been a ripe territory for these jihadists and extremists to operate," Obama said. "Rebuilding governance in those areas, and legitimacy for stable, moderate governing in those areas is going to take time."

With files from CBC News


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