Kurdish Forces Retake Mosul Dam From 'Islamic State' Fighters


Last updated (GMT/UTC): 17.08.2014 15:56

Kurdish peshmerga forces backed by U.S. air strikes have reportedly recaptured Iraq's strategic Mosul dam from Islamic State (IS) fighters, peshmerga and Iraqi sources reported.

Ali Awni, an official from Iraq's main Kurdish party, told French news agency AFP, "Mosul Dam was liberated completely."

A peshmerga officer and another political party official also confirmed that Kurdish forces were in control of Iraq's largest dam on the Tigris River, which provides electricity and irrigation water for farming to large areas of northern Iraq.

Iraqi state television later reported the claims, quoting an Iraqi military spokesman, Lieutenant-General Qasim Atta, as saying the forces were backed by air strikes.

Independent verification of the claim was not immediately possible.

A Twitter account linked to Islamic State fighters said the dam was still under the militants' full control on August 18.

The peshmerga on August 17 started a large-scale ground offensive, and regained some villages near the rebel-held northern city of Mosul.

Iraq's former foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, told the BBC that peshmerga fighters met "fierce resistance" in the battle for the dam.

U.S. Central Command said fighter jets, bombers, and remotely piloted aircraft carried out 14 strikes on August 17 near the Mosul dam, destroying 10 IS armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armored personnel carriers, and one IS checkpoint.

Meanwhile, in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, security forces backed by Sunni Arab tribal militia made gains west of the provincial capital, Ramadi.

More than two dozen Sunni tribes threw their weight behind a counteroffensive against the IS on August 15.

The IS, a militant group that seeks hard-line rule under an Islamic caliphate, has seized swaths of Iraq and Syria, displacing millions.

More than 200,000 people, mostly Yazidi and Christian religious minorities, have fled their homes since the group's latest advances.

In neighboring Syria, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad hit the Islamic State's stronghold of Raqqa, in the eastern part of the country, with more than two dozen air strikes on August 17.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, said at least 31 IS fighters were killed and dozens wounded in the air strikes that hit Raqqa city and the surrounding areas.

It said at least 26 strikes on August 17 hit Islamic State buildings, including the military court and bases in the city.

Assad has long claimed the uprising in Syria is a foreign-backed Islamist conspiracy, and his adversaries say he has allowed the IS group, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), to grow in order to back that claim.

Until recently, Assad's regime held off from targeting the IS, thus allowing it to thrive and also weaken less hard-line opposition groups that are backed by the West.

But this month, IS militants have made gains in Syria, boosted by equipment seized in a lightning offensive in neighboring Iraq, prompting the Syrian army to become more agressive, using air strikes against the group.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister David Cameron warned on August 17 that IS militants are a direct threat to Britain and the country must use all of its "military prowess" to halt their advance.

In his toughest comments on IS so far, Cameron wrote in an article for the "Sunday Telegraph" newspaper that "a firm security response" is needed to fight it.

Cameron argued that security could only be achieved "if we use all our resources -- aid, diplomacy, our military prowess." But he ruled out sending troops to Iraq.

He also said Britain needed to work with countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Egypt, Turkey "and perhaps even with Iran."

Based on reporting by AFP, dpa, and BBC