US officials "estimated that roughly 4,500 were atop the mountain, half of which were local herders."
8/15/14, "E.U. Foreign Ministers to Hold Meeting on Iraq," NY Times, Alan Cowell, London
|Yazidi refugees 8/13/14, getty|
The gathering was scheduled a day after Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq said that he had agreed to relinquish power after days of pressure from the United States and of rumors in Baghdad that a military coup was in the offing.
With Sunni Islamist militants threatening the country’s cohesion, the United States has suggested that Mr. Maliki’s departure might open the way to greater American military support.
In Europe, attention has focused on the plight of members of the Yazidi religious minority marooned on Mount Sinjar, near the Syrian border in northern Iraq, and on support for the Kurdish pesh merga forces confronting advances by the militant Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS.
Earlier this week, American forces were reported to be drawing up plans for a full-scale rescue mission for the Yazidis, possibly including the creation of a humanitarian corridor. But the United States military has since said that an assessment of conditions on Mount Sinjar by a small team of Marines and special forces showed that the crisis there was effectively over. Yazidi leaders and emergency relief officials have rejected that assessment.
Potentially deepening its commitment to countering the ISIS advance, Britain was reported on Thursday to be prepared to “favorably consider” any requests for military equipment to Kurdish forces. The move, reported by officials after a meeting of a high-level national security panel, reversed earlier reluctance to send military aid.
The shift came after France broke ranks with other European countries on Wednesday and said it would help arm Kurdish forces. France and Italy are also reported to be pressing for a broader European commitment to supply the Kurds with matériel including body armor, night vision equipment and ammunition.
Britain had earlier positioned three Tornado warplanes for surveillance missions and a small number of Chinook heavy-lift transport helicopters at a base in Cyprus, within range of the Kurdish region, and has dropped relief supplies to Yazidis fleeing ISIS forces on Mount Sinjar. Britain has also said it would help transport arms supplies from other countries.
Britain, like France, has strong historical ties to the region. In 1916, envoys from the two nations drew up a secret deal – the Sykes-Picot Agreement — during World War I, dividing the lands of the Ottoman Empire into spheres of influence, in part as forerunners to the modern nations of Iraq and Syria.
Video footage said to have been made by ISIS in recent days has shown its fighters tearing down border posts between Syria and Iraq and rejecting the 1916 delineation in favor of a single Islamic caliphate.
The crisis in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq presents a more modern dilemma for European powers. Hundreds of young European Muslims are reported to have joined ISIS forces, and security services in Europe and the United States have expressed concern that some battle-hardened veterans could carry the struggle back to their homelands.
Some Europeans see Iraqi Kurdistan as a potential haven for religious and other minorities displaced by the ISIS advance. Others have been drawn to the notion of the Yazidis as hardy mountain people clinging fiercely to their culture despite years of efforts by host governments to extinguish it.
But Western governments have also been anxious to avoid encouraging Kurdish separatism in a region where Kurdish minorities stretch across national frontiers.
“Directly arming the Kurds, without going through Baghdad first, boosts the Kurdish separatism that the west has sought to contain, wary of the regional impact of Iraq’s fragmentation and the knock-on effect of an independent Kurdistan on stability in Turkey and Iran, which also have large Kurdish minorities,” Julian Borger, the diplomatic editor of The Guardian, wrote on Thursday.
At the same time, some analysts said, the plight of the Kurdish minority is only one front in the broader battle for survival facing the Shiite-dominated authorities in Baghdad as they confront the Sunni militants who spilled across the border from Syria in June.
The Iraq conflict itself is only part of a much broader regional crisis. “It’s about a widening conflict between Sunnis and Shiites,” said Paddy Ashdown, a former leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain, “and it’s time we joined the dots.”"
Image: "Displaced Iraqi families from the Yazidi community cross the Iraqi-Syrian border at the Fishkhabur crossing, in northern Iraq, on Wednesday (8/13/14)," AFP/Getty, via AP story in Toronto Star
"The U.S. team reported finding about 3,500 to 4,000 Yazidis on the mountain, and that at least 1,500 of them prefer to stay."
8/14/14, "Iraq mountain rescue ‘far less likely,’ says U.S.," AP via Toronto Star, Robert Burns, Julie Press
"The Pentagon sees little if any need to airdrop more food and water to Iraqis atop Sinjar Mountain because most of the stranded have left and the remainder are in less dire need, a spokesman said Thursday.
Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said U.S. officials believe the number on Sinjar is now “in the neighbourhood of 4,000,” and that between 1,500 and 2,000 of those are local residents who live there and have no plans to leave.
“We believe based on our assessment of conditions on the mountain that it is much less likely that we'll need to continue to airdrop any more food and water,” Kirby said. The last airdrop was Wednesday.
A U.S. assessment team that spent Wednesday on the mountaintop reported numbers far smaller and circumstances less dire than feared. Two officials said they estimated that roughly 4,500 were atop the mountain, half of which were local herders.
That makes it less likely that U.S. troops will need to conduct a major rescue effort, but it does not substantially change the big picture in Iraq, which is in crisis with a problem-plagued government and an aggressive Sunni insurgency....
After being briefed on the assessment team's trip to Sinjar Mountain, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that it was “far less likely” now that a rescue mission would be needed."...