Obama mulls U.S. airstrikes to help trapped religious minorities in Iraq: NYT

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Obama mulls U.S. airstrikes to help trapped religious minorities in Iraq: NYT
President Barack Obama talks about his administration's response to a growing insurgency foothold in Iraq, Friday, June 13, 2014, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, prior to boarding the Marine One Helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto North Dakota and California. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Our Ocean conference, Monday, June 16, 2014, at the State Department in Washington. The Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran over deteriorating security conditions in Iraq and is not ruling out potential U.S.-Iranian military cooperation in stemming the advance of Sunni extremists, Kerry said Monday. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Our Ocean conference, Monday, June 16, 2014, at the State Department in Washington. The Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran over deteriorating security conditions in Iraq and is not ruling out potential U.S.-Iranian military cooperation in stemming the advance of Sunni extremists, Kerry said Monday. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
Secretary of State John Kerry addresses the Our Ocean conference, Monday, June 16, 2014, at the State Department in Washington. The Obama administration is willing to talk with Iran over deteriorating security conditions in Iraq and is not ruling out potential U.S.-Iranian military cooperation in stemming the advance of Sunni extremists, Kerry said Monday. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)
President Barack Obama talks about his administration's response to a growing insurgency foothold in Iraq, Friday, June 13, 2014, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, prior to boarding the Marine One Helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto North Dakota and California. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama talks about his administration's response to a growing insurgency foothold in Iraq, Friday, June 13, 2014, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, prior to boarding the Marine One Helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto North Dakota and California. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama walk to the Marine One helicopter on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 13, 2014, after the president talked about his administration's response to a growing insurgency foothold in Iraq. They took the helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., then onto North Dakota and California. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak).
Iraqi men sit carrying their weapons in the Iraqi town of Jdaideh in the Diyala province on June 14, 2014, as they volunteered to join the fight following the the call to arms against the jihadists by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sistani's yesterday call to defend the country against the offensive spearheaded by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) came as US President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi man holds his national flag in the Iraqi town of Jdaideh in the Diyala province on June 14, 2014, as he volunteered to join the fight against jihadists following the call to arms by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sistani's yesterday call to defend the country against the offensive spearheaded by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) came as US President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi Shiite cleric holds his weapon as he sits at a recruitment centre in the Iraqi town of Jdaideh in the Diyala province on June 14, 2014, following the call to arms against jihadists by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sistani's yesterday call to defend the country against the offensive spearheaded by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) came as US President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse. AFP PHOTO / AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP
Iraqi men raise up weapons and shout slogans as they demonstration in the central Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf on June 14, 2014 to show their support for the call to arms by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Sistani's yesterday call to defend the country against the offensive spearheaded by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) came as US President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse. AFP PHOTO / HAIDER HAMDANI (Photo credit should read HAIDER HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 13: U.S. President Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office past waiting reporters and White House staff to make a statement on the situation in Iraq June 13, 2014 on the south lawn of the White House in Washington, DC. Obama said he will make a decision in the Òdays aheadÓ about the use of American military power to aid the Iraqi government in its battle against Islamic insurgents. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama makes a statement on the situation in Iraq on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on June 13, 2014. Obama said Friday that he is examining options short of sending ground troops to help Iraq counter a Sunni extremist offensive, but warned the country must heal its own divisions. 'We will not be sending US troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces,' Obama said. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi men take part in a demonstration to show their support for the call to arms by Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in the central Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf on June 13, 2014. Sistani's call to defend the country against the offensive spearheaded by the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) came as US President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq's security forces from collapse. AFP PHOTO/HAIDER HAMDANI (Photo credit should read HAIDER HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they carry al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq's Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country's north. (AP Photo)
Demonstrators chant pro-al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) as they wave al-Qaida flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 16, 2014. Sunni militants captured a key northern Iraqi town along the highway to Syria early on Monday, compounding the woes of Iraq's Shiite-led government a week after it lost a vast swath of territory to the insurgents in the country's north. (AP Photo)
Shiite Muslim Iraqi clerics gather at a mosque in the southern Shiite shrine city of Najaf on June 16, 2014 for a meeting to discuss Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's call last week to arms to defend the country against the offensive spearheaded by the Sunni jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). AFP PHOTO/HAIDER HAMDANI (Photo credit should read HAIDER HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Shiite Muslim Iraqi clerics gather at a mosque in the southern Shiite shrine city of Najaf on June 16, 2014 for a meeting to discuss Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's call last week to arms to defend the country against the offensive spearheaded by the Sunni jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). AFP PHOTO/HAIDER HAMDANI (Photo credit should read HAIDER HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi civilians volunteering to fight a militant offensive gather themselves together on June 15, 2014, in the southern port city of Basra before going to Iraqi second city Mosul. Leading Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged Iraqis on June 13 to take up arms against Sunni militants marching on Baghdad, as thousands volunteered to bolster the capital's defences. AFP PHOTO/ STR (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi tribes men carry their weapons as they gather, volunteering to fight along side the Iraqi security forces against Jihadist militants who have taken over northern Iraqi cities, on June 14, 2014, in the capital Baghdad. Leading Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged Iraqis on June 13 to take up arms against Sunni militants marching on Baghdad, as thousands volunteered to bolster the capital's defences. AFP PHOTO/ALI AL-SAADI (Photo credit should read ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images)
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(Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama is considering airstrikes and emergency relief airdrops to help 40,000 religious minorities in Iraq who are trapped on a mountaintop after threats by Islamic militants, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

Obama has been looking at a range of options, from dropping humanitarian supplies on Mount Sinjar to military strikes on fighters from the Islamic State who are at the base of the mountain, a senior administration official told the newspaper.

The Islamic State's Sunni militants, an offshoot of al Qaeda who have swept across northwestern Iraq in recent weeks, have even come within a 30 minutes drive of the Kurdish capital of Arbil. They inflicted a humiliating defeat on Kurdish forces over the weekend and prompting tens of thousands from the ancient Yazidi community to flee the town of Sinjar for surrounding mountains.

Some of the many thousands trapped on Sinjar mountain have been rescued in the past 24 hours, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said earlier, adding that 200,000 had fled the fighting.

The Islamist fighters, who have killed many thousands and declared a caliphate in the area they conquered, are threatening the northern Iraq region of Kurdistan, previously considered a bastion of stability in a country ravaged by conflict.

The Kurds have made urgent appeals to Washington for arms or other military help, but the United States, committed to helping Baghdad restore a unified state and wary of Kurdish moves toward independence, have so far declined.

However, there have been signs the Obama administration may be shifting its position.

Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for Obama's National Security Council, told Reuters on Wednesday that any provision of U.S. weapons to the Kurds "must be coordinated with central government authorities, in Iraq and elsewhere."

But she added that given the threat from the Islamic State "the United States will continue to engage with Baghdad and Arbil to enhance cooperation on the security front and other issues. We are in continuous consultation with the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to determine how they can best coordinate" to confront the militants.

She said Washington fully supported a decision earlier this week by Baghdad to send air support to Kurdistan.

The United States help protect the Kurds from an onslaught by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War in 1991, with airdrops of humanitarian supplies and a no-fly zone to prevent Saddam's air attacks on the mountainous region.

White House Tight Lipped on Possible Air Strikes in Iraq
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