Britain and France edged closer to military action to help the tens of thousands trapped on Mount Sinjar in Iraq yesterday, as horrific reports continued to emerge of a people in a “scramble for survival”.
European Union foreign ministers are to meet tomorrow to discuss the crisis in Iraq, the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Ashton said the extraordinary meeting would "focus on the EU's response to major ongoing crises, focusing on Iraq and Ukraine."
Pressure is mounting on countries around the world to join the US in a military intervention which Barack Obama has said is necessary to prevent “an act of genocide”.
David Cameron has now returned from his holiday a day early to chair a meeting of the Government's emergency committee, Cobra, on the crisis in Iraq.
France announced yesterday that it would start supplying arms to the Kurdish forces who are on the front line against the Islamist militants Isis.
On Tuesday around 130 US soldiers arrived in the Kurdish capital of Irbil, in what the Pentagon described as a temporary mission to help coordinate the rescue of Yazidi people trapped up the mountain.
The United States has carried out air strikes against members of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group in the area of Mount Sinjar, where the UN refugee agency says 20,000-30,000 people, many of them members of the Yazidi minority, are besieged.
Thousands more poured across a bridge into camps in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region yesterday after trekking into Syria to escape, most with nothing but the clothes they wore.
Some women carried exhausted children, weeping as they arrived to the relative safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.
But there are still large numbers on the mountain, said 45-year-old Mahmud Bakr.
"My father Khalaf is 70 years old -- he cannot make this journey," he told AFP when he crossed back into Iraq.
UN minority rights expert Rita Izsak has warned they face "a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours".
Yazidi survivors reaching Dohuk in northern Iraq said their nightmare in Sinjar began when the town was shelled by Islamists last week.
Khalaf Hajji, who used to work at a school, said: “When we went up the mountain, snipers were firing at us. The girls were throwing themselves off the top of the mountain. We have lost all our faith in Iraq. They have hundreds of our women.”
Washington has urged Iraqi premier designate Haidar al-Abadi, who was appointed by President Fuad Masum on Monday, to rapidly form a broad-based government able to unite Iraqis in the fight against jihadist-led insurgents who have overrun swathes of the country.
However, Prime Minister Maliki yesterday continued to defy international pressure to step aside, declaring that it would take a federal court ruling for him to quit.
The two-term premier has accused Masum of violating the constitution by approving Abadi's nomination, and vowed he would sue.
But the prospects of Maliki succeeding in his quest to cling to power appear dim. Whatever ruling the court might deliver, analysts say Maliki has lost too much backing to stay in power.