First UK aid dropped in Iraq for Yazidis who fled IS militants

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Media caption"People are doing what they can to offer aid", Times journalist Sara Williams who is eight kilometres from the IS frontline

A British military aircraft has made the first drop of UK aid in Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence said the plane had carried out its mission overnight.

The focus of the aid effort is on helping thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority, who are trapped on a mountain in northern Iraq after fleeing from Islamist militants.

Downing Street said the humanitarian situation in Iraq remained "deeply worrying" and said it planned to step up aid drops in the coming days.

Parallel to the aid effort, US planes have been carrying out air strikes against the militants.

The US military said it had destroyed vehicles and equipment of the Islamic State (IS), which has been attacking Yazidi areas.

The militant Islamist group, formerly known as Isis or Isil, has seized swathes of territory across Iraq and Syria in the past few months and has threatened Iraqi minority groups.

'Appalling conditions'

Two British C130 cargo planes are delivering the aid to those who have fled from IS's advance.

Defence officials said one plane had dropped supplies that included reusable water filtration containers, tents and solar lights that doubled as mobile phone chargers.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: "The world has been shocked by the plight of the Yazidi community. They face appalling conditions, cut off on Mount Sinjar after fleeing persecution.

"The UK has acted swiftly to get life-saving help to those affected."

The US, France and the UN are also taking part in the international aid effort.

Estimates for the number of people trapped on Mount Sinjar range from 50,000 to 150,000.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The upper slopes of Mount Sinjar provide little shelter for those displaced (picture from 2005)
Image copyright AP
Image caption The Yazidi community has been fleeing persecution, said Justine Greening

The UK aid contribution for those displaced in Iraq is worth £13m in total. It includes:

  • £2m of emergency supplies for 75,000 people, which includes the aid being dropped on Mount Sinjar
  • £3m of fast-tracked funding for charities and NGOs already operating in Iraq
  • £2.5m of support for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to provide immediate medical help
  • and £500,000 to help coordinate relief efforts between the UN and the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said the aid effort is likely to continue "for the foreseeable future" until a way is found to get those sheltering on Mount Sinjar to safety.

The government says any long-term solution must involve the formation of a more inclusive Iraqi government, uniting all the country's ethnic and religious groups.

Image copyright Getty Images

Who are the Yazidis?

  • Secretive group whose origins and ethnicity are subject to continuing debate
  • Religion incorporates elements of many faiths, including Zoroastrianism
  • Many Muslims and other groups view Yazidis as devil worshippers
  • Holiest temple is in Lalesh, northern Iraq (pictured above)
  • There are estimated to be around 500,000 Yazidis worldwide, most living in Iraq's Nineveh plains