Iraq begins food drops
By: Philip Ewing
August 7, 2014 01:55 PM EDT
Iraqi authorities are air-dropping relief supplies to try to stave off a humanitarian catastrophe in northern Iraq, the Pentagon said Thursday, but officials would not confirm reports about potentially imminent air strikes.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest condemned the “cold and calculating manner” in which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has targeted religious and ethnic minorities in the territory it has seized. “It is a situation we are deeply concerned about and closely monitoring,” he said.
But other than confirming President Barack Obama met with national security advisers this morning, Earnest and other White House officials would not comment on a report in The New York Times that Obama could decide soon about potential air strikes or additional humanitarian assistance for the crisis in the north.
“I’m not in a position to rule things on the table or off the table in this context,” Earnest said.
A defense official told POLITICO that Iraq’s government had begun dropping relief supplies to some 40,000 Iraqi Yazidis trapped on a mountaintop without access to food or water and cut off by ISIL fighters. The U.S. is in “constant communication” with Baghdad and Erbil, the official said, “on how we can help coordinate additional relief, enhance their efforts and provide direct assistance wherever possible.”
The Times reported Thursday evening that air strikes had begun in Iraq, but Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby denied that on Twitter. Such reports are “false,” he wrote. “No such action taken.”
At a White House briefing earlier in the day, Earnest restated the administration’s position that American military action in Iraq is dependent upon Baghdad forming a new, inclusive government.
“You don’t want to have a situation where you have an Iraqi government that is relying solely on American military might to remain in power,” he said. Washington especially wants to see a new government in Baghdad that does not include the incumbent prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, whom American officials have blamed for alienating large sections of Iraq’s population.
Reporters pressed Earnest about the difference between a political process in Baghdad and what appeared to be an imminent humanitarian crisis on Mount Sinjar in Iraq’s north. By all accounts the Yazidis need food and water now and can’t wait for Iraq to get a new prime minister.
Earnest allowed that Obama has taken action in the past when confronted with imminent potential humanitarian crisis, as in 2011 when the forces of Libyan president Moammar Qaddafi seemed poised to sack the city of Benghazi. That pressing danger prompted Obama to authorize airstrikes, Earnest said, so it’s possible the White House could apply a similar calculation to the Mount Sinjar situation. Still, he did not convey any sense of immediacy.
“At this point, I’m not in a position to describe to you any conclusions that have been reached by the president or anybody else in the administration about the national security implications for the United States of this specific humanitarian situation other than to say it’s one that we condemn and we’re very concerned about.”