The same day that Pope Francis made an appeal to the international community to help persecuted and displaced Iraqis, the White House confirmed that the US will be sending humanitarian aid to those driven from their homes by Islamic State forces.
UPDATE: President Obama announced late this evening that humanitarian drops in Iraq have begun, and that he has authorized air strikes in the region “if necessary.” From Fox News:
President Obama announced Thursday night he has authorized the U.S. military to conduct air strikes “if necessary” against Islamist militants in Iraq, and the military has conducted a mission to drop humanitarian aid there to help religious minorities stranded amid the violence.
Obama said in a statement from the White House the U.S. military is authorized to launch targeted air strikes if Islamist militants advance toward American personnel in northern Iraq. He also said that the U.S. decided to conduct the drops to the 50,000 or so religious minorities stranded on a mountaintop in the country’s north, who have been forced to flee their homes as the militants advanced.
Obama said the religious minorities are under the threat of genocide from militants from the Islamic State (IS), the group formerly known as ISIS, and are stranded on the mountain without food or water.
“The United States of America cannot turn a blind eye,” Obama said.
Both C-130 and C-17 cargo aircraft participated in the drop, escorted by F-18 fighters. All aircraft have since safely left the immediate airspace over the drop area.
UPDATE (8/8): On Friday two jet fighters bombed ISIS artillery in Northern Iraq, the White House confirmed.
The announcement from the White House came after reports that IS had taken control of Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, and forced as many as 100,000 Christians to flee from their homes in the Nineveh plains. Asia News reports:
“ISIS militants attacked with mortars most of the villages of the [plain] of Nineveh, during the night of 6th-7th of August and now they are controlling the area. The Christians, about one hundred thousand, horrified and panicked fled their villages and houses nothing but with the clothes on their backs,” writes Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael I Sako in his appeal to AsiaNews.
“An exodus, a real via crucis” is how he describes the plight of Christians, who “are walking on foot in Iraq’s searing summer heat towards [salvation in] the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Duhok and Soulaymiyia, the sick, the elderly, infants and pregnant women among them. They are facing a humanitarian catastrophe and a real risk of genocide. They need food, water and shelter …” …
In an escalation of violence and terror, Jihadists managed to take over Iraq’s largest Christian town Qaraqosh and surrounding areas.
Last night, IS fighters moved in after Kurdish peshmerga troops pulled out. Until now, the latter had delayed the Islamist advance but are now stretched thin across several fronts in Iraq.
Speaking about the situation, Mgr Joseph Thomas, Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk, said, “the towns of Qaraqosh, Tal Kayf, Bartella and Karamlesh have been emptied of their original population.”
“It’s a catastrophe, a tragic situation,” the prelate said as he appealed to the Security Council of the United Nations to intervene “immediately” because “Tens of thousands of terrified people are being displaced as we speak, it cannot be described”.
Earlier today, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, SJ released a statement reiterating the deep concern Pope Francis has expressed on numerous occasions for the suffering of Christians in Iraq and urging the international community to lend aid to the persecuted:
The Holy Father is following with deep concern the dramatic news reports coming from northern Iraq, which involve defenseless populations. Christian communities are particularly affected: a people fleeing from their villages because of the violence that rages in these days, wreaking havoc on the entire region. …
His Holiness urgently calls on the international community to protect all those affected or threatened by the violence, and to guarantee all necessary assistance – especially the most urgently needed aid – to the great multitude of people who have been driven from their homes, whose fate depends entirely on the solidarity of others.
The Pope also appeals to the conscience of all people, and to each and every believer he repeats: “May the God of peace create in all an authentic desire for dialogue and reconciliation. Violence is not conquered with violence. Violence is conquered with peace! Let us pray in silence, asking for peace; everyone, in silence…. Mary Queen of peace, pray for us! (Angelus, July 20, 2014)”