Iraq
A member of the Kurdish peshmerga (armed fighters) takes his position holding a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher, during a security deployment against Islamic State militants, in Nineveh.Reuters

France is to supply arms to Iraq's Kurds "in the coming hours" to aid the fight against the Islamic State (IS), French president Francois Hollande has announced.

According to French media reports, Paris received approval from authorities in Baghdad to allow the transfer of arms to the Kurds.

The United States made a similar decision earlier this week, bypassing involving Iraq's government to supply arms directly to the Kurdish fighters, known as peshmerga.

The French move is "in response to the urgent need expressed by the regional authorities in Kurdistan", a statement from Hollande's office said.

The leader of Iraq's Kurds, Massoud Barzani, had last week pleaded with the international community to provide military aid to fend off the march of the Islamist militants, who are capturing vast swathes of northern Iraq in close proximity to the semi-autonomous region.

The US has announced that it has dispatched 130 more military advisers to the region in northern Iraq following an airstrike campaign against IS militant positions.

The increased US assistance in northern Iraq may include a full-scale evacuation of nearly 20,000 Yazidi Kurds trapped in the Sinjar mountains, forced to flee by an IS siege on the town of Sinjar.

Approximately 700,000 Yazidi Kurds have been displaced in the IS onslaught while 35,000 have escaped the Sinjar mountains to reach the Kurdish region or cross the border into Syria.

The UK government has also responded to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq, sending a third round of aid drops to prevent the Yazidis trapped in the mountains dying of dehydration or starvation.

The British shadow foreign secretary, Labour's Douglas Alexander, said that the UK had to increase its effort to help those trapped.

"Clearly the UK must now also be doing all that we can to assist the vital humanitarian effort that is under way to help save lives and prevent further suffering.

"Our task is to make our contribution and support the work required to save lives and secure the safety of these vulnerable people."