Middle East

Obama mulls options to rescue Iraq refugees

Iraqi children from the Yazidi community wave to Kurdish Peshmerga forces near Dohuk, the Kurdish region of autonomous Kurdistan in Iraq, after they fled with their families their hometown which was attacked by Sunni militants from the Islamic state (IS), on August 12, 2014 . AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

BAGHDAD/EDGARTOWN, Massachusetts: President Barack Obama is considering a range of military options, including airlifts and creating safe passages, for rescuing thousands of Iraqi refugees trapped on a mountain, and is expected to make a decision in days, the White House said Wednesday.

Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that while the U.S. has been delivering food and water to the refugees, it was unsustainable to let them remain on the mountain.

“There needs to be a lasting solution that gets that population to a safe space where they can receive more permanent assistance,” Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president during his vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard.

U.S. military advisers were headed for Mount Sinjar to study means of evacuating the civilians, a spokesman for the Kurdish peshmerga forces said Wednesday night.

Around 130 U.S. military advisers arrived in the Kurdish regional capital Irbil and “a group of them should be going to Mount Sinjar to study the situation there,” Halgord Hekmat told AFP.

The Pentagon sent the troops Tuesday to assess the scope of the humanitarian crisis and the options for getting them safely off the mountain. Rhodes said that given the urgency of the situation, Obama was expected to receive their final recommendations quickly and make a final decision within days.

Thousands of Iraqi religious minorities sought refuge after militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria swept through their village in northern Iraq. In addition to the aid drops, the U.S. has conducted airstrikes against ISIS targets, both to protect American personnel in the region and stop the militants from moving on the civilians again.

Obama has ruled out sending combat troops back into Iraq more than 2 1/2 years after the last U.S. troops withdrew from a war in which nearly 4,500 Americans died. A U.S. military-led rescue mission on Sinjar Mountain would almost certainly put U.S. troops in harm’s way. But Rhodes insisted their mission would be strictly a humanitarian rescue and would not constitute a return to combat.

Rhodes suggested the U.S. would undertake a rescue mission with help from allies, including Kurdish forces receiving arms from the U.S., and the British.

An ever-more isolated Nouri al-Maliki again protested his removal as Iraqi prime minister Wednesday as his former sponsor in Iran publicly endorsed a successor who many in Baghdad hope can halt the ISIS advance.

While Maliki, abandoned by former backers in the United States and Iraq’s Shiite political and religious establishment, pressed his legal claim on power, premier-designate Haider al-Abadi held consultations on forming a coalition government that can unite warring factions after eight years that saw the Sunnis driven to revolt by what they saw as Maliki’s sectarian bias.

Maliki’s own Dawa Party called on politicians to work with Abadi to form a new government.

In a statement, the Dawa Party said it “called on political blocs to cooperate with the constitutionally designated prime minister, Mr. Abadi, and accelerate the formation of a government in the defined time period.”

In a speech on state television, in his continuing capacity as acting prime minister, Maliki said he was waiting for the supreme court to rule on his complaint that, as leader of the biggest bloc in the parliament elected in April, it was he, not Abadi, whom the president should invite to form a government. A court ruling against Maliki could be a way out of the standoff.

But the U.S., during whose occupation Maliki first rose to power, made clear again it has had enough of him. The White House said it would be glad to see an Abadi government and urged Maliki to let the political process move forward.

And Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, bound to Tehran’s U.S. adversary by a common interest in curbing the rise of ISIS, offered his personal endorsement to Abadi. He very publicly distanced himself in the process from Maliki, who has looked for support from Iran.

“I hope the designation of the new prime minister in Iraq will untie the knot and lead to the establishment of a new government and teach a good lesson to those who aim for sedition in Iraq,” Khamenei said on his website.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 14, 2014, on page 1.




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