Iraq aid operation launched by U.N. agency

Aug 19, 2014, 7:11 AM EDT
Families arrive at a Kurdish checkpoint next to a temporary displacement camp on June 14, 2014 in Kalak, Iraq. Thousands of people have fled Iraq's second city of Mosul after it was overrun by ISAS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants.
AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations agency for refugees is launching a major aid operation to reach more than half a million people displaced by fighting in northern Iraq. The BBC reports:

Supplies will be sent via airlift, road convoys and sea shipments through Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran. A U.N. spokesman called it "a very, very significant aid push".

Militants from Islamic State (IS) have captured parts of northern Iraq and are fighting Iraqi and Kurdish forces. The UN's World Food Programme says it has already served up more than a million meals to displaced people in the past two weeks alone. Tents and other goods will be included in the aid packages to be delivered to refugees to try and tackle the escalating humanitarian crisis.

The aid push comes as Western powers step up efforts to stem the advance of Islamic militants by supporting Kurdish and Iraqi government forces in northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces launched an offensive on Tuesday to drive Islamic State fighters out of Tikrit, hometown of executed dictator Saddam Hussein. Reuters writes:

Iraqi forces launched an offensive on Tuesday to drive Islamic State fighters out of Tikrit, home town of executed dictator Saddam Hussein, while the militants warned they would attack Americans "in any place".

In Geneva, the United Nations refugee agency announced a major aid operation to get supplies to more than half a million people displaced by fighting in northern Iraq. Buoyed by an operation to recapture a strategic dam from the jihadists after two months of setbacks, Iraqi army units backed by Shi'ite militias fought their way towards the center of Tikrit, a city 130 km (80 miles) north of Baghdad which is a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim minority.

"Our forces are advancing from two directions with cover from army helicopters, mortar and artillery shelling the positions of the Islamic State fighters in and around the city," an army major in the operations room told Reuters.

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