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Militants Target Second Iraqi Dam as Infrastructure Attacked

Mosul Dam
The Mosul dam, about 50 kilometers northwest of the city that the militants captured in June, is a major supplier of electricity and water. If it collapsed or was sabotaged, it could flood Mosul and surrounding villages. Source: DigitalGlobe via Getty Images

Islamic militants in Iraq are battling to seize two of the country’s largest dams as a breakaway al-Qaeda group seeks to consolidate control over the territory it took this year.

Fighting between militants from the so-called Islamic State and Kurdish security forces raged for a third day near the Mosul dam, Iraq’s largest, Hisham al-Brefkani, member of the Nineveh provincial council, said in a phone interview. About 350 kilometers (200 miles) to the south, Iraqi forces engaged militants in the farmland and villages near the Haditha dam, Khalid al-Hadithi, a city council chairman, said in an interview.

The Islamic State, which was previously known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, has grabbed territory throughout Iraq and Syria and declared its own self-styled caliphate, highlighting the central government’s inability to ensure security under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Strengthened with weapons seized from the Iraqi army, the group this week took two oil fields and predominantly Kurdish towns in the north, forcing thousands to flee their homes.

Kurdish forces, known as Peshmerga, launched a counterattack on Sinjar and Zummar, which were seized by militants during the past few days, al-Brefkani said. “The Kurdish military status has changed from a defensive one to an offensive one,” he said.

Kurdish Forces

In Sinjar, where part of The Exorcist was filmed about 40 years ago, the fighting overnight went back and forth, with the majority of the district still under the control of the militants, Sheikh Ahmed Al-Obaidi said in a phone interview from Mosul. “The Kurdish forces were able to control the entrance to the city twice last night, and then they withdrew.”

The Mosul dam, about 50 kilometers northwest of the city that the militants captured in June, is a major supplier of electricity and water. Germany’s Hochtief AG helped build the dam on the Tigris River in the 1980s. If it was sabotaged, it could flood Mosul and surrounding villages.

The fighting in the area hasn’t disrupted operations at the dam, Abdul Jaleel Sahib, deputy director general of Iraq’s state-run Commission for Dams, said in a phone interview. “The staff are working, and the dam is under the control of the Iraqi government.”

‘Resource War’

The Islamic State has enriched itself by seizing infrastructure and energy assets as its makes military gains in Iraq and Syria, where it is battling forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as other opposition groups.

“They have shown their capacity, skills and desire to fight a resource war,” Paul Sullivan, a Middle East specialist at Georgetown University in Washington, said by e-mail. “These dams will be part of that. The electricity and water from them are vital not only for the north, but all of Iraq.”

The militants are also attempting to seize the Haditha dam, on the Euphrates river in Anbar province northwest of Baghdad.

“They have intensified their attacks on Haditha town and the dam in the last four days,” Hameed Hashim, a member of the Anbar provincial council, said in a telephone interview. “Haditha dam is still under government forces’ control and there are military reinforcements around it.”

Islamic State fighters captured the town of Zummar and the Ain Zala and Batma oilfields, which together have an output of 30,000 barrels per day, in the past few days, according to the state-run Northern Oil Co.

The militant advance on Sinjar and other towns in the area displaced as many as 200,000 people, according to the UN Mission in Iraq. Most of the displaced are Yezidi, a Kurdish community whose faith includes features of the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism.

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