White House plans Iraq rescue operation; talking to Canada, others

The United States is planning an international effort to whisk displaced people to safety in Iraq, and it appears there may be a supporting role for Canada.

WASHINGTON — The United States is planning an international effort to whisk displaced people to safety in Iraq, and it appears there may be a supporting role for Canada.

The U.S. says it’s in discussions with several countries including Canada about helping Yazidis, Iraqi Christians, and other people who have become displaced by the advance of Islamist fighters.

At a White House briefing Wednesday, deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. was taking up offers to help those who are under threat from the al-Qaida splinter group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

“We have offers of support from a number of allies like France, Australia, Canada,” Rhodes said.

“We’ll be in discussions with them about what they can do both as it relates to helping the Yazidi population … but also, more broadly, helping bring relief to the displaced persons in northern Iraq, which includes not just Yazidis but an enormous number of Iraqi Christians and others who have been driven from their homes by ISIL.”

It’s expected that most countries would play a humanitarian-assistance role while the U.S. weighs options for a military mission to help move tens of thousands of people away from the area.

Last weekend, Canada promised $5 million in aid for Iraqis, with nearly half the money going to international groups like the Red Cross and the rest set to be spent following consultation with allies.

The U.S. has stepped up its Iraqi engagement in recent days, after thousands became stranded on a mountain, facing starvation and the threat of being killed by Islamist rebels.

The U.S. has launched about seven airstrikes in the region and is now preparing a more elaborate mission, the details of which Rhodes said should become clear within days. He said U.S. military analysts were assessing different possible operations.

Rhodes was adamant about one thing: U.S. President Barack Obama, who removed U.S. combat troops from Iraq three years ago, would not be sending them back in. The president has repeatedly promised not to send in combat troops, and has spoken publicly about his concerns about so-called mission creep.

Rhodes equivocated, however, when asked whether a rescue mission could devolve into a firefight.

“Well, look, any time you have — I mean, even now as we speak we have pilots flying over Iraq. That always carries with it danger,” he said.

“So in any effort, there are always dangers involved.”

So far, U.S. lawmakers have been extremely supportive of the Obama administration’s operations in Iraq.

That’s a stark contrast with last year, when his musings about airstrikes in Syria met with a wall of resistance.

Polls suggest American public opinion has become anti-war in recent years, following deadly and costly years-long conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Obama was elected on a promise to end the latter war, and has repeatedly stated his reluctance to get drawn back into Iraq.

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