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Iraq Presses Attack After Pushing Militants From Largest Dam

Aug. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Backed by U.S. air support, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have enjoyed several recent successes in northern Iraq. But they have largely failed to protect frightened populations, who have abandoned entire towns, with no intention of ever returning. Bloomberg's Willem Marx reports. (Source: Bloomberg)

Iraqi security forces stepped up their attacks against the Islamic State after ousting the militants from the country’s largest dam with U.S. support.

About 50 Islamic State vehicles were destroyed and 100 militants killed in airstrikes in the last three days, Faleh al-Issawi, deputy head of Anbar provincial council in the country’s west, said by phone today. In Tikrit, about 150 kilometers (95 miles) north of Baghdad, militant fighters stalled the army’s offensive today, Sheikh Salam al-Nassiry, a resident of the city, said by telephone.

Iraqi forces, along with Kurdish fighters and U.S. fighter jets, are seeking to reverse gains made by the insurgents, who have rampaged through OPEC’s No. 2 crude oil producer since taking Mosul in June. Kurdish and Iraqi forces seized control of the Mosul Dam yesterday with American air support, after stopping their advance on the city of Erbil earlier this month.

Iraq's Brittle Nationhood

The latest airstrikes against the militants “were outside the cities in the desert, targeting supplies lines,” al-Issawi said. “The Islamic State is losing a lot, and isn’t as strong as it was.”

President Barack Obama said the U.S. will continue “limited” airstrikes against the militants. Obama, who pressured former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to step down, is seeking quick appointment of a new, more inclusive Iraqi government under Prime Minister-designate Haidar Al-Abadi as a stabilizing step for the region for both Iraq and Syria.

Photographer: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP viaGetty Images

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter looks towards smoke rising on the horizon following U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State (IS) militants at Mosul Dam, on Aug. 18, 2014. Close

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter looks towards smoke rising on the horizon following U.S.... Read More

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Photographer: Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP viaGetty Images

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter looks towards smoke rising on the horizon following U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State (IS) militants at Mosul Dam, on Aug. 18, 2014.

‘Victory’

Islamic State positions were struck near Haditha Dam, one of the country’s largest, and the towns of Rawa and Aana, al-Issawi said. It was unclear if the U.S. or Iraqi airforce had carried out the bombings, he said.

“Victory is near and the Islamic State will be finished along with those backing them,” Abadi said in an e-mailed statement today. The militants use “all the dirty measures to protect themselves, including shielding themselves among civilians,” he said.

Abadi called on the Iraqi airforce to be “accurate” and to avoid striking civilians in their fight against the Sunni-Muslim insurgents.

Backed with artillery and helicopters, Iraq forces also tried to retake Tikrit, which militants overran in June after seizing Mosul, the police said in a statement. They failed to dislodge the fighters from the main road, and withdrew south outside the city on the Tigris River, al-Nassiry said.

U.S. Strikes

Islamic State fighters have strengthened their fighting capacity with U.S.-made weapons seized from fleeing Iraqi troops since taking Mosul, the country’s largest city in the north. They were able to seize the Mosul Dam using those weapons.

Obama authorized air strikes following the dam seizure and a move by the Islamic State toward Erbil, where the U.S. has military and diplomatic personnel based.

Over the previous three days, the U.S. conducted 35 air strikes against militants near the Mosul dam, according to a statement yesterday from Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. The attacks involved fighter, bomber and drone aircraft.

Brent plunged yesterday as Kurdish and Iraqi forces regained control of Iraq’s largest dam. Brent for October settlement rose 6 cents to $101.66 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange today. It slumped 1.9 percent to $101.60 yesterday, the lowest settlement since June 25, 2013.

Warning

The a-Qaeda breakaway group said it will “attack Americans everywhere,” if U.S. air strikes against its fighters in northern Iraq don’t stop, Al Mada Press said, citing a video posted on the Internet

While the Islamic State has lost control of Mosul dam, they retain key oil infrastructure in Iraq and eastern Syria. This generates millions of dollars in daily revenue to help fund a self-proclaimed caliphate, or state, based on the group’s hard-line interpretation of Islamic law.

In Syria, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad attacked Islamic State positions in Deir Ezzor and al-Raqqa, according to the Facebook page of the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The airstrikes killed 12 militants in al-Raqqa, the group said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Khalid Al-Ansary in Erbil at kalansary@bloomberg.net; Aziz Alwan in Baghdad at aalwan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at asalha@bloomberg.net Glen Carey, Mark Williams

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