16 Jun 2014

Iraq crisis: John Kerry says air strikes in Iraq an option

The US is considering drone strikes to help the Iraqi government, Secretary of State John Kerry says, after photos emerge that appear to show Sunni extremists massacring captured Iraqi soldiers.

Asked about the possibility of such strikes, Mr Kerry said: “They’re not the whole answer, but they may well be one of the options that are important.”

“When you have people murdering, assassinating in these mass massacres, you have to stop that. And you do what you need to do if you need to try to stop it from the air or otherwise,” he said, in an interview with Yahoo News!.

Kerry also said the US could be willing to talk with Iran to help Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government combat a Sunni Islamist insurgency. “We’re open to discussions if there is something constructive that can be contributed by Iran, if Iran is prepared to do something that is going to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Iraq,” he said.

Mr Kerry’s clarification on the situation came as Foreign Secretary William Hague said as many as 400 UK-linked nationals were fighting in the conflict in neighbouring Syria and some of them were “inevitably” fighting for Isis.

The foreign secretary called it the “most violent and brutal militant group in the Middle East”.

Mr Hague repeated his position that there was no prospect of a British military intervention to tackle Isis in Iraq, but said counter-terrorism support could be offered to the government in Baghdad and a Ministry of Defence (MoD) team had been sent to the country to assist embassy staff in contingency planning.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that Washington was preparing to open talks with Iran on ways to push back the militants.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is struggling to repel militants who have seized several cities. On Sunday, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) posted horrific photos online, one of which appeared to show a firing squad executing Iraqi soldiers (see below).

Isis photo appears to show a firing squad executing Iraqi soldiers

The Iraqi military said they were authentic and the US condemned the images as “horrific”.

Other photos show hooded Sunni militants herding captured Iraqi men, in civilian clothes, with their hands tied.

UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay says reports of hundreds of summary executions in Iraq had been corroborated and almost certainly amounted to war crimes.

Citing senior US officials, the Wall Street Journal said that the dialogue between the US and Iran was expected to begin this week. It comes as the US and other world powers strive for an agreement with Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

Read more: Sunnia and Shias – the key questions

Isis photo appears to show Iraqi soldiers being herded by militias

Militants from Isis have swept through towns in the Tigris valley north of Baghdad in recent days but appeared to have halted their advance outside Baghdad as they tightened their grip on the north.

Insurgents seized the mainly ethnic Turkmen town of Tal Afar in north west Iraq on Sunday after heavy fighting.

Residents reached by telephone in the city of Tal Afar said it had fallen to the rebels after a battle that saw heavy casualties on both sides.

“The city was overrun by militants. Severe fighting took place, and many people were killed. Shi’ite families have fled to the west and Sunni families have fled to the east,” said a city official who asked not to be identified.

US officials said it was not certain which diplomatic channel the Obama administration would use with Iran for any discussions about Iraq, the Journal reported. One possibility was through Vienna, the paper said, where senior US and Iranian officials are scheduled to meet with other world powers on Monday to negotiate limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

Video: Qubad Talabani, the son of President Talabani of Iraq tells C4 News: ‘The Iraq we knew has come to an end’