Iraqis and the international community welcomed the U.S. airlift of emergency aid to thousands of people who fled to the mountains to escape Islamic extremists and called for greater intervention, as U.S. warplanes struck the militants for the first time.
Cargo planes dropped parachuted crates of food and water over an area in the mountains outside Sinjar, where thousands of members of the Yazidi minority where sheltering, according to witnesses in the militant-held town, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.
The airstrikes were meanwhile launched outside the Kurdish regional capital Irbil, and marked the first time U.S. forces have directly targeted the extremist Islamic State group, which controls large areas of Syria and Iraq.
In Irbil, about 3,000 Christians who fled their homes in Qaraqoush huddled inside St. Joseph’s cathedral. They said they were happy about the possibility of American airstrikes.
"We are pleased with the airstrikes and we hope we can go back to our properties," said one of the Qaraqoush refugees, 43-year-old Luay Janan.
In contrast to Washington’s decision to invade Iraq more than a decade ago, both the airdrop and the authorization of military action against the Islamic State group were widely welcomed by Iraqi and Kurdish officials fearful of the militants’ lightning advance across the country.
"We thank Barack Obama," said Khalid Jamal Alber, from the religious affairs ministry in the semi-autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq.
The Iraqi Ministry of Immigration and the Displaced also welcomed the aid drops. The ministry’s spokesman, Satar Nawrouz, said the drops came "just in time."
And yet, there is some sense that the American action came late in the game.
Speaking of the slow response to what he called “a genocide against Christians," U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), stated yesterday, "President Obama has failed to lead.”
Smith, chairman of the global human right subcommittee in the House, said in a statement provided to Aleteia: “The evidence of genocide is overwhelming. The question is will we act before it’s too late? Will we act before every Christian in Iraq is exterminated or turned into a refugee? The President’s indifference is both numbing and enabling. We must act.”
And, in a statement today, Rep. Frank Wolf, a long-time advocate of protecting religious freedom, welcomed the US actions as "a positive first step" but said they should be followed with a "robust effort by the administration to provide assistance to the Kurdish government—including allowing them to sell their oil in order to have the resources to defend their territory and defend the Christians and other religious minorities who have sought their protection."
"It took the fall of Mosul, Qaraqosh, and Sinjar to the Islamists for the great powers to finally become concerned about the fate of minorities in Iraq," wrote Judikael Hirel in Aleteia’s French edition yesterday.
Wolf, a Virginia Republican who is retiring from Congress this year, pointed out that President Obama still has not signed legislation, passed by Congress two weeks ago, to create a special envoy for religious minorities in the Middle East.
"I’m glad to see that President Obama feels some sense of responsibility to protect Americans as well as the Iraqis who are the victims of ISIS," said Kishore Jayabalan, director of the Rome office of the Acton Institute, in an email exchange with Aleteia. "In the rush to pull American troops out of Iraq three years ago, we knew that such problems were likely to happen and would eventually require our return, if that’s what we want to call it."