Australia may participate in United States airdrops of food and water to civilians threatened by jihadist violence in Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Saturday.
US President Barack Obama has authorised air strikes in Iraq to prevent fighters from the so-called Islamic State from moving into autonomous Kurdistan and carrying out a potential genocide against displaced minorities.
The US has also dropped food and water to thousands of people who have been hiding from the Sunni extremist militants in a barren northern mountain range and Abbott said Australia could contribute to this effort.
"We are talking to the Americans about possible Australian participation in these humanitarian airdrops," Abbott told reporters in Sydney.
"Australia does have some transport assets in the Middle East," he added, saying two C-130 aircraft in the United Arab Emirates could be used.
Australia is a close ally of the US, and Abbott said it was important to assist international partners as the situation deteriorated in Iraq.
But he said there had so far been no discussion about Australia becoming involved in the air strikes which the US has authorised.
"There is a looming humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in northern Iraq right now," Abbott said.
"Some 40,000 women and children mostly are exposed on a mountain surrounded as I understand it by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) forces that are threatening to kill them. They are exposed on this mountaintop without food, without water without shelter.
"We've been asked to consider participation in humanitarian airdrops, and I think the Australian people would be pleased to think that Australia might be involved in helping to rescue up to 40,000 people."
Abbott said Australia's efforts would not be designed to "pick sides in a war" but to protect civilians from violent onslaught.
"This is medieval barbarism assisted by modern technology," he said.