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US weapons for Kurds

August 11, 2014

United States officials have confirmed they are sending weapons to support Kurdish fighters battling "Islamic State" militants in Iraq. As fighting goes on, other nations are discussing whether to do the same.

Peshmerga fighters in Iraq
Image: Reuters

A spokesperson from the US State Department on Monday confirmed that arms and ammunition were being urgently shipped to Iraqi Kurdish forces.

"We're working with the government of Iraq to increasingly and very quickly get urgently needed arms to the Kurds," the AFP news agency quotes the State Department's Marie Harf as telling CNN.

Harf added that the effort had been underway since last week but did not specify which US agency was leading the effort or details of the weapons that were sent. Separately, another State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the US was working with authorities in Baghdad to speed up deliveries of "badly needed arms" to Kurdish forces in the north.

The Kurdish region's president Masoud Barzani had called for support with weapons to help Kurdish peshmerga forces in their fight against the IS group.

Territorial gains for Islamists

Fighters belonging to the "Islamic State" group, formerly known as the "Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" (ISIS), took control of the town of Jalawla, northeast of Baghdad, on Monday, following fighting with Kurdish troops.

The autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan has so far managed to largely hold out against IS fighters, believed to be in part due to airstrikes by the United States over the weekend.

Further support from Europe

European leaders have also called for weapons to be given to the Iraqi Kurds, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday calling for a response from the EU to Iraqi Kurdistan's requests for help. There were similar sentiments from Italy's foreign minister, Federica Mogherini. However German spokesman Steffen Siebert said the government had a principle of not exporting arms to war or conflict zones. An emergency meeting of ambassadors from the EU's 28 member countries, about the security situation in Iraq, Gaza and Ukraine, is planned for Tuesday.

Aid for refugees

At the same time, British cargo planes have dropped some emergency supplies to members of the minority Yazidi community, who fled to the Sinjar mountains fearing attacks by IS militants. However, Britain was forced to abandon a further airdrop of aid on Monday because they feared hitting people in the desperate crowd below.

"The safety of the Yazidi community is paramount. With a number of people at the drop sites this morning, the crew made the responsible decision not to carry out the air drop to ensure that the lives of those in the area would not be put at risk," a spokesman for the Royal Air Force (RAF) said, adding that they would try again to drop supplies as soon as possible.

The "Islamic State" has taken over large areas of Iraq and Syria in the past two months, declaring a "caliphate" in the area under its control.

se/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters)