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US considers rescue mission for trapped Yazidi refugees in Iraq

It comes as the country’s prime minister said he would sue the president in a desperate bid to cling to his job.

Image: Khalid Mohammed/PA

Updated 7.17am

THE UNITED STATES is looking at options to rescue thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been trapped on a mountain by militants.

The Guardian reports the officials in Washington said these options are being explored to evacuate the thousands of Yazidi people.

This comes as the country’s prime minister said he would sue the president in a desperate bid to cling to his job, deploying security forces across Baghdad even as violence raged in the north.

A defiant Nuri al-Maliki made his shock announcement after three days of US strikes against jihadist militants in the north of Iraq and in spite of mounting calls for him to step aside.

“Today I will file a formal complaint to the federal court against the president,” Maliki said in an address broadcast on the stroke of midnight on state television.

He alleged that Iraq’s Kurdish veteran Fuad Masum had violated the constitution twice, essentially by failing to designate him as the prime minister.

Masum theoretically had 15 days after his July 24 election to pick a prime minister.

Jihadist offensive

Maliki’s Shiite coalition won April polls comfortably but his standing has been undermined by a devastating jihadist offensive launched on June 9 that overran large swathes of Iraq.

The 64-year-old premier had pledged in a 2011 AFP interview he would not seek a third term but he has since changed his mind despite flagging support from nearly all his erstwhile allies: the United States, Iran, Shiite clerics and even his Dawa party.

“The United States fully supports President Fuad Masum in his role as guarantor of the Iraqi Constitution,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

State of emergency

Security sources told AFP of a massive security deployment, akin to measures taken in a state of emergency, across the capital Baghdad.

“There is a huge security presence, police and army, especially around the Green Zone,” the highly-protected district that houses Iraq’s key institutions, a high-ranking police officer said.

He said the deployment started at around 1930 GMT, just 90 minutes before Maliki gave his speech.

While it remains unclear whether Maliki has a valid constitutional argument, the mass deployment of counter-terrorism SWAT teams across Baghdad was an obvious show of force.

“Several streets have been closed… as well as some key bridges,” said an official at the interior ministry. “It’s all linked to the political situation.”

In his brief address, Maliki said Iraq was facing a “dangerous” situation and urged “the sons of Iraq” to be on alert.

Masum is a Kurd and relations between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq have been strained of late.

The Kurds have long complained that the federal government was not sending them their 17 percent share of federal oil resources.

US Kurds Kurdish Peshmerga fighters Source: AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

Kurdish peshmerga fighters then seized long-coveted areas over which they were in dispute with Baghdad, including the oil-rich Kirkuk region, when routed federal forces retreated in the face of the jihadist onslaught two months ago.

That prompted Maliki to accuse the Kurdistan Regional Government of siding with the Islamic State (IS) group and the “caliphate” it declared in late June over parts of Iraq and Syria.

Cash-strapped Kurdistan’s troops initially fared better than Baghdad’s but over the past week jihadists made spectacular gains, seizing the country’s largest dam and advancing within striking distance of the Kurdish capital.

- © AFP, 2014 with additional reporting by Michelle Hennessy.

First published 6.32am

Read: Britain has started airdropping food and water to besieged Yazidi >

Opinion: The Syrian Civil War has moved out of the limelight – and towards its endgame >

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