"There is a looming humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in northern Iraq right now": Tony Abbott. Photo: Cole Bennetts/Getty Images
Australian forces could be involved in a humanitarian mission to Iraq within days, to provide food and water to the thousands of people stranded in the north of the country, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced.
Mr Abbott said the United States has asked Australia to consider participating in humanitarian air drops in the mountain area near the city of Sinjar and that officials in the US and Australia are currently in talks.
‘‘There is a looming humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in northern Iraq right now,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters stand guard during airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants at the Khazer checkpoint outside of the city of Irbil in northern Iraq. Photo: AP
“Some 40,000 women and children mostly, are exposed on a mountain surrounded, as I understand it, by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces that are threatening to kill them.”
Mr Abbott added that Iraqis were exposed in the mountain area, without food, water and shelter, noting that US President Barack Obama had called the situation a potential genocide.
The Prime Minister said that the US had already begun air drops and were looking to continue them for as long as people are exposed.
Mr Abbott said that Australia had two C-130 Hercules aircraft based in the United Arab Emirates that could be used to help America's efforts.
He added that it was important that Australia ‘‘join our international partners in doing what we can to render assistance’’.
This comes as Mr Abbott announced he will leave Australia early on Sunday morning, to travel to the Netherlands and London.
In the Netherlands he will personally thank Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte for the Netherlands’ role in leading recovery efforts after the MH17 disaster and have briefings on the process for identifying the victims.
In London, Mr Abbott will talk to security and intelligence officials and senior members of the British government about counter-terrorism operations and the situation in Iraq.