French foreign minister arrives in Iraq for talks on insurgency

by Reuters
Sunday, 10 August 2014 07:41 GMT

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BAGHDAD, Aug 10 (Reuters) - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived in Baghdad on Sunday for talks with officials on efforts to confront Islamic State militants who have advanced across northern Iraq, state television reported.

Kurdish officials said Fabius would later travel to their regional capital Arbil for further talks.

The Islamic State has captured wide swathes of northern Iraq since June, executing non-Sunni Muslim captives and minorities, displacing tens of thousands of people and drawing the first U.S. air strikes in the region since Washington withdrew troops in 2011.

After routing Kurdish forces last week, the militants are just 30 minutes' drive from Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, which until now has been spared the sectarian bloodshed that has scarred other parts of Iraq for a decade.

The possibility of an attack on Arbil has prompted foreigners working for oil companies to leave Arbil and Kurds to stock up on weapons at the arms bazaar.

In their latest sweep through the north, the Sunni insurgents routed Kurdish forces and seized a fifth oil field, several more villages and the biggest dam in Iraq, which could give them the ability to flood cities or cut off water and electricity supplies.

U.S. President Barack Obama told a news conference on Saturday there was no quick fix for the crisis and urged Iraqi leaders to form an inclusive government that could ease sectarian tensions and unite Iraqis against the Islamic State.

Following the U.S. example, Britain and France also pledged on Saturday to deliver humanitarian supplies to people trapped by the militant advance.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said London was especially concerned by the fate of Yazidis who are cornered in their ancient homeland of Sinjar in mountainous northern Iraq.

Islamic State militants have surrounded 300 Yazidi families and told them to covert to Islam or face death - imposing a deadline which expires at noon on Sunday local time. (Reporting by Isabel Coles; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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