The White House is weighing the possibility of air strikes against Islamist militants in order to rescue thousands of religious minorities stranded in a mountainous area, facing starvation and the threat of mass execution.
A spokesman for President Barack Obama says the U.S. government is working with Iraqi authorities to address the crisis. He isn't confirming or denying reports that the U.S. might participate in a humanitarian airlift, and possibly also airstrikes.
The Canadian government has condemned what it calls the repugnant behaviour of the al-Qaida splinter group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says "despicable acts of violence" have displaced more than 200,000 people in the past week alone, and are driven purely by hate and intolerance for religious minorities.
News of a possible escalation comes less than two months after Obama announced he was sending 300 military advisers to help the Iraqi military.
At the time, Obama said he was worried about mission creep and vowed that American combat troops wouldn't return to Iraq.