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PARIS, Aug 8, (Agencies): As US warplanes struck jihadist positions in Iraq in a bid to prevent a potential genocide, Washington’s Western allies have so far limited their contribution to offers of humanitarian aid and expressions of diplomatic outrage. Responding to a UN Security Council plea for the international community to help Iraq cope with a flood of refugees prompted by a jihadist offensive, Obama ordered the first US air strikes on Iraq since the end of Washington’s occupation in 2011.

US forces bombed the jihadists after they shelled Kurdish regional government forces defending their capital Arbil. In addition to the military action, a US defence official also confirmed that planes had already dropped “critical meals and water for thousands of Iraqi citizens” and vowed further drops if needed. But just hours after Obama pledged potential military strikes, Britain, which joined the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, moved swiftly to rule out military intervention of its own.

Prime Minister David Cameron stressed that he “fully agreed” with Obama that “we should stand up for the values we believe in — the right to freedom and dignity, whatever your religious beliefs.” Nevertheless, a Downing Street spokesman emphasised: “We are not planning a military intervention.” After an emergency government meeting to discuss the situation in northern Iraq, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “What we have decided today is to assist the United States in the humanitarian operations that started yesterday. We are offering technical assistance ... in terms of refuelling and surveillance.” “We are offering aid of our own which we hope to drop over the next couple of days in support of the American relief effort, particularly to help the plight of those who are trapped on the mountain,” added Fallon.

France, which opposed the 2003 invasion, welcomed the “important decision” Obama had made to launch air strikes and vowed “support” for those fighting the militant advance in Iraq but without specifying what form that might take. “France will examine with the United States and all its partners what actions can be taken to jointly offer the necessary support to end the suffering of the civilian population,” President Francois Hollande said in a statement that did not directly refer to the bombing.

France is “ready to play a full part” in this support, added Hollande, without offering further details. Germany, which also opposed the 2003 war, vowed to boost its humanitarian aid by 2.9 million euros ($3.9 million) and pledged more help if needed. “It is clear that is not enough and we have to see what we can do beyond that,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement. “The killing, systematic forced displacement and forced conversion of Christians, Yazidis and members of other minorities by... terrorists in Iraq represent a new dimension of the horror,” Steinmeier said. “We condemn these despicable crimes, targeted at entire communities, in the strongest terms.” However, as Western governments condemned the horror, charities and experts warned that the response was too little, too late. British charity Save the Children said it had never seen such a rapid displacement of people as in the past two months in Iraq, with 1.2 million people fleeing their homes, and called for unfettered humanitarian access to the worst affected areas.

The charity’s country director, Tina Yu, said: “We’re seeing children and families who’ve fled their homes, often in the middle of the night, fearing for their lives and with nothing but the clothes on their backs.” Jean-Charles Brisard, an independent terrorism consultant, said France’s response in particular had been “cosmetic”. “France and its European partners have made declarations of intent but there has been no action,” he told AFP.

“We’re now trapped because we’ve waited too long against very well-structured groups.” Obama has not established a “specific end date” for US military strikes in Iraq, the White House said on Friday, explaining the situation will depend on the security situation in the country. “The president has not laid out a specific end date,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters. “We’re going to sort of take this approach in which those kind of decisions are evaluated regularly and are driven by the security situation on the ground as it relates to the safety and security of American personnel but also as it relates to supporting the ongoing efforts of both Kurdish security forces and Iraqi security forces,” Earnest said. In London, the Foreign Office on Friday urged Britons in the Arbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk provinces of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region to “leave now” following attacks by extremists. The travel advice, which was issued before US jets struck jihadist positions near the city of Arbil, does not extend to the Kurdish capital itself, an spokeswoman said. In an updated guidance, the Foreign Office advised against all travel to those areas of the Kurdistan region affected by fighting following attacks by jihadist militants this week. “If you’re currently in these areas you should leave now,” it said.

The Foreign Office also advised against all travel to Anbar, Nineveh, Salah Al-Din and Diyala provinces and all of the area south of Kirkuk City limits. “Those British nationals already present in the Kurdistan region should take precautions to remove themselves from areas close to the conflict,” it said, warning that the situatikon could “deteriorate quickly”. For the rest of Iraq, London advises against all but essential travel.

Meanwhile, British Airways (BA) suspended flights over Iraq on Friday as the US launched air strikes against Islamic militants fighting in the north of the country. Aspokesman for Britain’s flagship carrier said it was “temporarily suspending our flights over Iraq”. But BA said services that use the route, mainly to Doha and Dubai, would not be cancelled or disrupted because alternative routes would be found. Willie Walsh, chief executive of BA parent group International Airlines Group, last week pledged to keep flying over Iraq despite mounting concerns over commercial flight paths in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine.

The airline said then it did not believe the conflict in Iraq between government forces and jihadist group Islamic State (IS) posed the same threat to commercial airliners. But it took its decision to suspend flights after the Federal Aviation Administration banned all US civilian flights over Iraq on Friday, just hours after Washington ordered air strikes on fighters in Kurdistan. In a Notice to Airmen, the FAA cited the “potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict” between Islamic State militants and Iraqi security forces and their allies as the reason for the indefinite ban.

The ban extends to “all US air carriers and commercial operators,” as well as US-licensed pilots unless they are flying aircraft registered in the United States for a foreign operator. Northern and eastern Iraq lie on the flight path for several non-American long-haul carriers operating between Europe, the Middle East and Asia, according to online flight tracking services. Concern about civilian flights over conflict zones soared after the July 17 downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur above an area of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatist rebels.

Turkish Airlines, one of the key foreign carriers flying to Iraq, said it had halted flights to the main city of Iraq’s Kurdish region for security reasons amid the Islamist offensive. “Our flights to Arbil are being cancelled for security reasons until further notice,” the airline said in a statement. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways on Thursday also announced a suspension of flights to Arbil, while Britain has urged citizens living in parts of Kurdistan to leave. US warplanes earlier bombed positions held by Islamic State insurgents who have advanced to take swathes of northern Iraq.

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