‘We are fighting a terrorist state’

US air strikes continued in Iraq yesterday as US Central Command said drones and jet aircraft hit Islamic State armed trucks and mortar positions near Irbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region.

‘We are fighting a terrorist state’

That marked a third successive day of US airstrikes, which Central Command said were aimed at protecting Kurdish peshmerga forces as they face off against the militants near Irbil.

The Islamists’ advance in the past week has forced tens of thousands to flee, threatened Irbil and provoked the first US attacks since Washington withdrew troops from Iraq in late 2011, nearly nine years after invading to oust Saddam Hussein.

Consolidating a territorial grip that includes tracts of Syrian desert and stretches toward Baghdad, the Islamic State’s local and foreign fighters have swept into areas where non-Sunni groups live.

The group wants to establish religious rule in a caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq and has tapped into widespread anger among Iraq’s Sunnis at a democratic system dominated by the Shi’ite Muslim majority.

President Barack Obama warned there was no quick fix for the crisis that threatens to tear Iraq apart.

Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani urged his allies to send arms to help his forces hold off the militants, who have bases across the Syrian border.

During a visit by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Barzani said: “We are not fighting a terrorist organisation, we are fighting a terrorist state.”

Another senior official said Kurds retook two towns southwest of Arbil, Guwair and Makhmur, with the help of US strikes. But he did not expect a rapid end to the fighting.

US military aircraft have dropped relief supplies to tens of thousands of Yazidis who have collected on the desert top of nearby Mount Sinjar, seeking shelter from the insurgents.

A spokesman for the UN refugee agency in Iraq said some 30,000 Iraqis had since Friday reached safety in Kurdistan after travelling on the Syrian side of the border from Sinjar.

Obama said it would take more than bombs to restore stability, and criticised Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government for failing to share power with Iraq’s Sunni minority, which was dominant under Saddam.

France joined the calls for Iraq’s feuding leaders to form an inclusive government capable of countering the militants.

Papal call

Pope Francis yesterday expressed outrage at violence aimed at religious minorities in Iraq, where fleeing children have died of thirst, and called on the world “to stop these crimes”.

In a strongly-worded message during his traditional Sunday blessing, Francis said the news from Iraq “leaves us in dismay and disbelief”.

He cited “the thousands of people, including Christians, who have been brutally forced from their homes; children who have died from thirst during the escape and women who have been seized”. He also spoke of the destruction of “religious, historic, and cultural treasures”.

The Pope urged the international community to find “an efficient political solution that can stop these crimes and re-establish the rule of law”.

He said his personal emissary, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, Vatican ambassador in Baghdad in the Iraqi war, would depart today for Iraq “to better ensure those dear suffering populations of my closeness to them”.

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