Iraqi Shiite volunteers who have joined government forces to fight Sunni jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) take part in a training session near the southern port city of Basra on August 7, 2014
United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The UN Security Council on Thursday urged governments to help Iraq cope with a humanitarian crisis sparked by a jihadist offensive that has left hundreds of thousands of Iraqis on the run.
The 15-nation Council issued the appeal as the United States was weighing action including possible airdrops to trapped civilians and France offered support to Kurdish forces battling Islamic State(IS) fighters.
The Council called on "the international community to support the government and the people of Iraq and to do all it can to help alleviate the suffering of the population," said a unanimous statement from the 15 members.
IS, which proclaimed a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq in late June, moved into Iraq's main Christian town Qaraqosh overnight after the withdrawal of Kurdish peshmerga troops.
Religious leaders said IS militants have forced 100,000 Christians to flee from northern Iraq and have occupied churches, removing crosses and destroying manuscripts.
Iraqi Ambassador Ali al-Hakim said the meeting focused on the need for urgent relief to help civilians fleeing the violence, but denied reports that air strikes had been carried out against the jihadists.
"There is no strike being done yet," said Hakim.
"The first item is immediate humanitarian help for Iraq, inside of Iraq. That is immediately requested and it looks like it's being done right now."
The Council condemned attacks by IS fighters and expressed "deep outrage" over the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, many from vulnerable minorities, who have been displaced, said the statement read by British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant.
The top world body said it welcomed Iraq's efforts to address the humanitarian crisis and to combat "the terrorist threat" posed by the jihadists, and called for an "intensification of these efforts."
France, which had called for the urgent meeting, has offered to support forces combating IS fighters, with President Francois Hollande discussing the aid in talks with Kurdish leader Massud Barzani.
Pope Francis called on the world to protect Christians after the fall of Qaraqosh and "to guarantee all necessary help" to those forced to flee their homes.
The Council met behind closed doors at France's request amid growing international alarm over the advance that has brought the Al-Qaeda affiliate within striking distance of the main Kurdish city of Arbil.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier urged world governments to "mobilize to counter the terrorist threat in Iraq and support and protect the population at risk."
In Washington, the White House said the IS advance could unleash a "humanitarian catastrophe" but declined to confirm reports that President Barack Obama was considering air strikes.
The statement from the council was the third strong condemnation in recent weeks of the IS offensive that saw jihadists seize control of the main northern city of Mosul on June 10.
The UN council called on armed groups to respect humanitarian law and warned that those responsible for attacks on civilians could face trial for crimes against humanity
- Iraqi minorities trapped -
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was "appalled" by reports of attacks by IS fighters on Christian, Turkmen and Yazidi minorities, and called for international help.
Concern has focussed on the fate of thousands of Yazidis trapped for days on a mountain near Sinjar, without food, water and shelter, and surrounded by Islamic militants.
"Reports of Yazidis amassing along the Turkish border as well as thousands also trapped in the Sinjar mountains in desperate need of humanitarian assistance are of urgent and grave concern," said Ban.
Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako, whose church is aligned with the Roman Catholic Church, warned of a "humanitarian disaster" and called for a concerted international response.
Iraq's 400,000 Christians have been under serious threat from the IS advance and in mid-July, thousands fled Mosul after the group gave them an ultimatum to convert to Islam, pay protection money or leave on pain of death.
Turkey said Thursday it had taken in up to 800 people from Iraq's Yazidi, a minority who adheres to an ancient faith rooted in Zoroastrianism but are considered heretics by the Islamists.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held a three-hour long crisis meeting Thursday with military and intelligence chiefs to discuss the potential fallout from Iraq.
The government is also planning to establish a 20,000-capacity camp in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Dohuk for Iraqi Turkmens.