World Bulletin/News Desk
The United States began to drop relief supplies to beleaguered Yazidi refugees fleeing militants in Iraq.
President Barack Obama said he had authorised limited bombing to prevent "genocide" and blunt the onslaught of rebels who have captured swathes of northern Iraq and advanced to a half hour drive from the Kurdish regional capital, Arbil.
"ISIL's campaign of terror against the innocent, including the Christian minority, and its grotesque targeted acts of violence show all the warning signs of genocide," he said.
Reuters photographs on Thursday showed the insurgents had raised their black flag over a checkpoint just 45 km (28 miles) from Arbil, bringing them closer than ever to the city of 1.5 million which is also the region's economic capital.
Their advance and the threat of U.S. military action sent shares and the dollar tumbling on world financial markets, as investors moved to safe haven assets such as gold and German government bonds.
U.S. oil majors Exxon Mobil and Chevron operating in Iraqi Kurdistan evacuated expatriate staff on Thursday, industry sources said, and the shares of several oil companies operating in the region fell for a second day on Friday.
However, a spokesman for Austria's OMV energy company, which has worked in the region since 2008, said the fighters' advance was having no impact on its operations.
"Everything for us is under control," he said.
"AMERICA IS COMING TO HELP"
Obama said air strikes, which would be the first by the U.S. military in Iraq since its withdrawal in 2011, could also be used to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces trying to break the ISIL's siege of Sinjar mountain, where tens of thousands of Yazidis have taken refuge.
"Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, 'There is no one coming to help'," said Obama. "Well, today America is coming to help."
Yazidis, ethnic Kurds who practice an ancient faith related to Zoroastrianism, are among a handful of pre-Islamic minority groups who survived for centuries in northern Iraq. They are believed to number in the hundreds of thousands, most living in Iraq, with small communities in the Caucasus and Europe.
U.S. officials also announced an acceleration of military supplies to the Kurdish regional government, whose peshmerga forces have been routed by the militants as they seized control of a dozen towns and the country's biggest dam in the last week.
Obama insisted he would not commit ground forces and had no intention of letting the United States "get dragged into fighting another war in Iraq".
The U.S. Defense Department said planes dropped 72 bundles of supplies, including 8,000 ready-to-eat meals and thousands of gallons of drinking water, for threatened civilians near Sinjar.
Northern Iraq has long been one of the most diverse parts of the Middle East, home to isolated ethnic and religious minorities who survived centuries.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have also fled for their lives after ISIL fighters overran their hometown of Qaraqosh on Thursday.
In Baghdad, Yazidi lawmaker Mahma Khalil told Reuters up to 250,000 Yazidis had fled and were in desperate need of life-saving assistance.
"We hear through the media there is American help, but nothing on ground," said Khalil, who is in touch with Yazidis on Sinjar mountain. Relief supplies that had reached the area so far were woefully insufficient, he said.
"Please save us! SOS! save us!" he said several times. "Our people are in the desert. They are exposed to a genocide."
A United Nations humanitarian spokesman said some 200,000 people fleeing had reached the town of Dohuk on the Tigris River, in Iraqi Kurdistan, and nearby areas of Niniveh province.
Tens of thousands have fled further north to the Turkish border, Turkish officials said.
The Kurdish regional government insisted on Thursday its forces were advancing and would "defeat the terrorists," urging people to stay calm. Local authorities cut off social media in what one official said was an attempt to stop rumours spreading and prevent panic.
The mood in Arbil on Friday was calm but apprehensive. One resident said some residents had returned home after initially leaving the regional capital in fear.
"Two days ago there was fear but now it's better," said Omaid, a 37-year-old dentist on his way to the market. "Two days ago, people left the city if they had homes in the villages and went there. Now people's state of mind has improved and those who left have returned."
Residents were stockpiling food and weapons, he said.
Faced with deep Congressional and public reluctance, Obama backed away from using air power against President Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria last year after chemical weapons were used. Assad has since regained the upper hand against divided opposition forces in a three-year-old civil war.
However, the president said preventing a humanitarian catastrophe and averting a threat to American lives and interests in Iraqi Kurdistan were ample justification for the use of U.S. military force in Iraq.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Ağustos 2014, 16:03