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U.N. Warns Of 'Possible Massacre' In Northeastern Iraq

Updated at 3:10 p.m. ET

The United Nations is calling for action to prevent what it's describing as a possible massacre in Iraq's northeastern city of Amerli, which has been under siege for two months by Islamic State militants.

The city's population is largely Turkmen Shia, seen as apostates by the hard-line Sunni Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

The situation in Amerli, where people are reportedly without electricity or drinking water and said to be running low on food, bears a striking similarity to what occurred at Mount Sinjar earlier this month: Yazidis there were surrounded and many killed by militants largely because of their minority religious beliefs. The U.S. conducted airdrops of humanitarian aid to the trapped Yazidis at Sinjar and airstrikes against the Islamic State fighters besieging the mountain.

In a statement issued in Baghdad today, Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. special representative in Iraq, described "unspeakable suffering" in Amerli.

Immediate action is needed "to prevent the possible massacre of [Amerli's] citizens," he said.

"The town is besieged by ISIL and reports confirm that people are surviving in desperate conditions. I urge the Iraqi Government to do all it can to relieve the siege and to ensure that the residents receive lifesaving humanitarian assistance or are evacuated in a dignified manner. Iraq's allies and the international community should work with the authorities to prevent a human rights tragedy," Mladenov said. Amerli, with an estimated population of about 18,000, has been besieged by Islamic State insurgents for weeks.

Iraq's most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, also expressed concern Friday over the plight of Amerli, according to Reuters.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

"The plight of the Shiite villages, about 100 miles north of Baghdad, is among several crises the U.S. is evaluating to gauge whether American airstrikes could help. But so far, no plans have been presented to the Pentagon for an imminent operation, according to Defense Department officials.

"An intervention to save the population could raise pressure on the U.S. to address a number of other looming humanitarian disasters that Iraq's military has been helpless to prevent."

As we reported Friday, U.S. officials have declined to rule out expanding airstrikes against the al-Qaida-inspired Islamic State and have become increasingly alarmed over the group's "growing capacity" in recent months, as it has made significant territorial gains in Iraq.

On Saturday, U.S. Central Command said in a statement that it had conducted additional airstrikes using fighter aircraft against Islamic State militants in the vicinity of Mosul Dam in northern Iraq. The latest strikes, it said, bring the total to 94 in Iraq since Aug. 8.

Also on Friday, gunmen killed dozens in a Sunni mosque in the northeastern Diyala province.

Earlier this week, Islamic State murdered U.S. journalist James Foley, posting a video of the beheading on social media. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the group is "beyond anything we've seen." Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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