The United States said Thursday that its declaration that the Islamic State organization is committing genocide against minority groups in Iraq and Syria won't affect the strategy Washington is pursuing against the movement.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the point of the declaration was to "lay out for the sake of history what we all know and have seen this group do to innocent people in Iraq and in Syria."
The declaration recognizes the suffering of so many individuals and - the US hopes - will help galvanize the world to help do more to defeat the group.
Kirby said US Secretary of State John Kerry's statement earlier Thursday affirmed a US policy that has long treated Islamic State "as if [it] had genocide on its mind."
That policy dates to August 2014, when Islamic State tried to "exterminate" Yazidi residents on Mount Sinjar, Kirby said. The US-led air campaign began shortly after that.
Kerry cited Mount Sinjar where thousands of Yazidis were trapped by Islamic State forces without food, water or medical care.
He said that the Islamic State movement "is genocidal by self-proclamation, by ideology, and by actions - in what it says, what it believes and what it does. Its entire world view is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology."
The Sunni extremist militia has committed crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims and in some cases against Sunni Muslims, Kurds and other minorities, Kerry alleged.
The Islamic State organization "kills Christians because they are Christians, Yazidis because they are Yazidis, Shias because they are Shias."
Kerry said that the 66-country international coalition against the Islamic State movement had managed to pushed the extremists out of 40 per cent of the territory that the organization once controlled in Iraq and 20 per cent in Syria.
"There is no question in my mind that if [the Islamic State movement] succeeded in establishing its so-called caliphate, it would seek to destroy what remains of ethnic and religious mosaic once thriving in the region," Kerry said.
Kirby said there had been an intensification in the pace and scope of airstrikes and on many other levels in the fight against Islamic State forces and the pressure would continue.
The US Congress has been pressuring the Obama administration to report on its investigations into genocide and other atrocities in Iraq and Syria and had set Thursday as the deadline for releasing its findings.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce welcomed Kerry's statement, saying the US government was "finally making the right call." He urged President Barack Obama to lay out a "broad, overarching plan" to actually defeat and destroy Islamic State.
Kerry said his conclusions were based on a review of information gathered in recent months by the State Department, the intelligence community and outside groups. He said the US would do everything possible to hold perpetrators accountable.
"I am neither judge, nor prosecutor nor jury with respect to the allegations of genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by specific persons," he said, noting that in the end the facts "must be brought to light by an independent investigation."