The papers: US strikes in Iraq

The papers are dominated by the launch of air strikes by the US against Islamist militants in Iraq.

The front page of the Independent features a stern-faced US President Barack Obama, on the phone to King Abdullah II of Jordan, in the Oval Office.

The paper says America has sent aircraft to bomb Islamic State fighters "in a desperate attempt to stop their advance on the Kurdish capital, Irbil".

Britain refused to rule out joining US air strikes - for now, it adds.

The Daily Telegraph pictures a US fighter jet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier George HW Bush, preparing for an attack.

The Telegraph also speculates that Britain could join America in launching air strikes - after, it says, Mr Obama pledged to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

"US warplanes return to Iraq" is the headline in the Guardian. The paper says the bombings pulled America back into conflict in Iraq for the first time since ground troops were withdrawn in 2011.

The Guardian is more confident that the UK will not become involved in air strikes - saying its role will be limited to humanitarian aid and technical support for the US.

The Financial Times says Mr Obama's authorisation of air strikes returns the military to a conflict from which he has been trying to extricate the US for his entire presidency.

Looking at the economic impact, the paper says two London-listed oil firms have withdrawn workers from the Kurdistan region of Iraq amid fears for their safety.

The Daily Mirror is more strident about the UK's role, suggesting that the SAS is playing a part. A source tells the paper that there "has to be a boots on the ground element to help locate targets".

The Daily Mail reports that tens of thousands of starving Iraqis are trapped on an exposed mountainside in the searing heat by Islamist fighters who have threatened to massacre them if they try to escape.

Slippery slope?

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In an editorial, the Independent says it is strange to say it but the residents of Irbil may be the lucky ones - immediate danger from predations of the Islamists has placed all of the people in the area under the protection of the US air force.

The paper's US editor David Usborne asks whether this is as limited as the White House says or a slippery slope? And in a comment piece Robert Fisk accuses the US of hypocrisy - only coming to the rescue because there are Christians involved.

In a dispatch, the Telegraph's Richard Spencer describes the evacuation of the Christian town of Qaraqosh: "Within a couple of hours, the city's tens of thousands of inhabitants were crowding the road to Kurdistan, fighting with troops manning checkpoints, trying to find shelter where they could."

Its US editor Peter Foster says Mr Obama's decision to intervene may appear sudden but was taken only after all other options were exhausted.

"The West has to help the innocents of Iraq," says the Telegraph in its comment column.

"Freedom of religious worship is a precious human right. Sadly, in some parts of the world it is all too vulnerable," it states.

Diplomatic editor Julian Borger, in the Guardian, says the spread of the Islamic State's dominance across the map of Syria and Iraq has come at such a speed, obliterating the barriers put in its way, that it has spread panic from Washington to Iran. Until US air strikes, he continues, Irbil itself looked as if it was on the point of falling.

Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian, describes the crisis as not a holy war but an unholy mess.

"It isn't religious zeal but the collapse of state power that makes the clash in Iraq feel like a return to the dark ages," he says.

In an editorial, the FT says Mr Obama is right to take risks in Iraq.

"There are three imperatives in this treacherous situation: humanitarian, strategic and political. They will need to be carefully managed," it warns.

Former Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman Menzies Campbell writes in the Mirror that Mr Obama is in "a very difficult place" because his "unique selling point" was that he was against war - but urges the president not to hold back.

The Mirror describes the situation in the Middle East, and Iraq in particular, as "one of total despair". "To have done nothing would have allowed a slaughter akin to what happened in Rwanda or Srebrenica," it says.

The Mail comments that the West's politicians have "a moral duty to clean up the mess we made".

The Sun says America was right to launch air strikes against the "Islamist State terrorists in northern Iraq".

"One of the most dangerous legacies of the Iraq War has been the idea that military action is always wrong," it states.

'Fine mess'

Many of the papers cover a BBC survey that suggests the number of fines issued to parents for their children's absence from school has risen by about 70% since term-time holidays were banned last year.

The Independent calls it a "fine mess" and declares that "penalties aren't the best way to stop term-time holidays".

"The attempt to keep children in school, week in, week out, was a sensible one. Work comes first, as a teacher might tut," it says.

"Either at home or abroad, children get plenty of holiday time away from their desks. But the practical implementation of the change does not seem to have matched the wisdom of its intentions."

The Mirror notes that some fines will have been for truancy or repeated poor attendance - but most were for going on holiday.

Still on the subject of holidays, the Telegraph reports that cruise passengers are apparently "on a slow boat to ill health".

Researchers claim, says the paper, that the average passenger consumes 168 units of alcohol a week - up to 12 times the recommended level.

This comprises, it continues, a hefty six beers, two cocktails, a bottle of wine and two glasses of whisky a day on average.

The Daily Mail has a story about alcohol on its front page - it reports that Public Health England is to issue guidance that people should not drink on consecutive days.

And the Mail is hardly impressed, calling it a "startling shift" in official advice by "the government's health quango".

Neither is the paper's health columnist, Martin Scurr, declaring: "Sensible drinkers don't need this sort of nannying."

Clouds looming

For those not heading abroad, there is bad news with the expected arrival to the UK of the remnants of tropical storm Bertha.

And it makes the front page of the Daily Express.

"Bertha, currently hurtling across the Atlantic, is also set to coincide with unusually high tides, leading to warnings that colossal waves could tumble over sea defences," it predicts.

In a separate weather story, the Express reports that the price of food could be about to drop thanks to an unusually early harvest this year.

It says that a "scorching" summer after a mild and wet spring means some crops have been ready up to a month in advance.

The Independent visits Bryony Sadler on the Somerset Levels whom, it says, could be forgiven for keeping a closer than usual eye on the weather this weekend.

Her home spent three weeks under water during the winter storms - and her family have not been able to go back since. "Storm fears mean sandbags again on the Levels," is the paper's headline.

The Guardian reports that the Met Office has issued a warning - with a 60% to 70% chance that the storm will hit the south coast of England.

"Flood alert as Big Bertha heads for rain-swept Britain," warns the Mirror. The paper says the storm is "hurtling towards us, bringing the threat of force 10 winds and floods".