The US says it launched air strikes against Islamic State positions in northern Iraq, reportedly killing hundreds of militants.
US President Barack Obama authorised air strikes on Thursday after an official request for military intervention by the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which is the last hold out against the militants in the area.
Obama said that the US would act “carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide” by Islamic State militants against the minority Yazidi (mostly ethnic Kurds) and Christian (mostly Assyrian) communities in Iraq.
Two US F/A-18 Hornet aircraft dropped 225kg laser-guided bombs on Islamic State mobile artillery units near Irbil in north western Iraq. Militants had been using the units to shell the city of Irbil.
In recent weeks, militants have seized Iraq’s largest Christian town, Qaraqosh, forcing members of the Yazidi community to flee to Mount Sinjar, where they face starvation and dehydration.
Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed the strikes, but ruled out any UK involvement in the military action. Instead, Defence Secretary David Fallon said that the UK would support the US with surveillance and refuelling.
Royal Air Force (RAF) planes will also be used to make food drops to members of the 40,000 members of the Yazidi community, mostly women and children, trapped on Mount Sinjar.
Meanwhile, US and British diplomats, amongst others, are pushing Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki to pursue more inclusive governing arrangements, which they hope may stop some Sunni Iraqis welcoming the militants as an alternative to Baghdad, which they argue discriminates against Sunni Muslims.