- POSTED: 15 Aug 2014 01:45
- UPDATED: 15 Aug 2014 02:20
US President Barack Obama declared on Thursday (Aug 14) that America broke the jihadist siege of Iraq's Mount Sinjar, where thousands of civilians were trapped, but said air strikes against the militants will go on.
DOHUK, Iraq: US President Barack Obama declared on Thursday (Aug 14) that America broke the jihadist siege of Iraq's Mount Sinjar, where thousands of civilians were trapped, but said air strikes against the militants will go on.
The UN refugee agency had said tens of thousands of civilians, many of them from the Yazidi religious minority, were at one point trapped on Mount Sinjar by jihadists of the Islamic State (IS) militant group, which has overrun swathes of Iraq and Syria.
"The situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts because the skill and professionalism of our military and the generosity of our people, we broke the (IS) siege of Mount Sinjar," Obama said in a statement to reporters.
"We helped save many innocent lives. Because of these efforts, we do not expect (there) to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain and it's unlikely we're going to need to continue humanitarian air drops on the mountain," he said.
But Obama added that the air strikes, which were begun on August 8, will go on. "We will continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq," he said, who had cited the risk to the US consulate in Arbil as a reason for the military intervention.
The US sent a military assessment team to Mount Sinjar, while it and other countries have dropped food and water to those stranded on the mountain. Iraqi helicopters also delivered aid and flew civilians from the mountain to safety. But even once all civilians have escaped the mountain, major difficulties will remain.
'FROM HUNGER TO HUNGER'
Thousands of people have poured across a border bridge into camps in Iraq's Kurdish region after trekking through neighbouring Syria to find refuge, most with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Some women carried exhausted children, weeping as they reached the relative safety of the camps.
But the relief of reaching relative safety was tempered by the spartan conditions of the camps hurriedly erected by the Iraqi Kurdish authorities. "We went from hunger in Sinjar to hunger in this camp," said Khodr Hussein.
As the international outcry over the plight of the Yazidis mounted, Western governments had pledged to step up help for those trapped, and the United Nations declared a Level 3 emergency in Iraq, allowing it to speed up its response.
Various countries are also ramping up their efforts to aid the Kurdish forces battling the militants, who have targeted minority groups in the north, including Yazidis and Christians.
PRESSURE MOUNTS ON MALIKI
In his remarks on Thursday, Obama also reiterated his call for an inclusive government to be formed and his backing for premier designate Haidar al-Abadi.
"We are urging Iraqis to come together to turn the tide against (IS) above all by seizing the enormous opportunity of forming a new inclusive government under the leadership of prime minister designate," Obama said.
Abadi, whose nomination was accepted by President Fuad Masum on Monday, has 30 days to build a team that will face the daunting task of defusing sectarian tensions and, in the words of US President Barack Obama, convincing the Sunni Arab minority that IS "is not the only game in town".
The UN Security Council has expressed backing for Abadi's nomination, calling it "an important step toward the formation of an inclusive government."
And the office of top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on Wednesday released a July letter in which he called for incumbent premier Nuri al-Maliki to be replaced.
Maliki has defied growing international pressure to step aside and insisted it would take a federal court ruling for him to quit. Sistani is revered by millions and has enormous influence among Iraq's Shiite Arab majority.
But even before the release of the Sistani letter, analysts said Maliki had lost too much backing to stay in power. International support has poured in for Abadi, most importantly from Tehran and Washington, the two main foreign powerbrokers in Iraq.