Kurdish forces retook part of Iraq’s largest dam after battling Islamic State fighters in nearby villages in an attempt to push back the Sunni-Muslim insurgents from the north with the help of U.S. airstrikes.
Kurdish and Iraqi government fighters seized control of the eastern part of the Mosul Dam, though their progress is “slow,” Abo Maan Al-Taie, a spokesman for Sunni tribes supporting the militants, said by phone. Earlier today, Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, fought in the villages of Telkeif and Wana near the dam, Noureddin Qablan, deputy chief of Nineveh council, said by phone. They dislodged militants from the town of Tel Skuf, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) east of the city of Mosul, he said.
Kurdish fighters, along with regular Iraqi forces and U.S. fighter jets, are seeking to rein in the Sunni insurgents who have rampaged through OPEC’s No. 2 oil producer, seizing border posts, beheading foes and targeting dams. The advance on the Mosul Dam comes a day after the U.S. expanded the reach of its airstrikes to areas near Mosul, Iraq’s largest northern city, to help wrest control of the dam seized this month by Islamic State fighters.
Before seizing the eastern side of the dam, the peshmerga along with the Iraqi army advanced “from all sides,” Qablan said. “They are involved in clashes with the militants.”
The dam near Mosul is the most important asset the Islamic State captured since taking Nineveh province in June. The militants also control several oil and gas fields in western Iraq and eastern Syria, generating millions of dollars in daily revenue to help fund the caliphate it announced and strengthen its grip on territory it has seized.
The U.S. destroyed 10 armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armored personnel carriers and one checkpoint in 14 airstrikes today near the dam to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida said in an e-mailed statement today. The U.S. conducted at least nine airstrikes yesterday near the dam, Central Command said.
The combination of Navy F-18 and Air Force F-16 fighters, along with the drones, marked the largest deployment of U.S. aircraft since the strikes began on Aug. 8, according to a U.S. defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“These air operations are for the sole purpose of helping the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces to defeat the militants around strategic sites,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said in a phone interview. “The U.S. must hit critical equipment and economic assets to weaken the Islamic State’s grip on territory.”
President Barack Obama tied expanded U.S. action to the formation of a more inclusive government capable of easing sectarian and ethnic divisions.
That prospect was strengthened last week, when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to step aside after his backing at home and overseas had crumbled. Prime Minister-designate Haidar al-Abadi has until mid-September to form a less divisive government better able to fight the Sunni militants.
European nations are also showing signs that they are willing to engage in northern Iraq. The U.K. will have to use its “military prowess” to help defeat an “exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement” in Iraq, Prime Minister David Cameron said in article in the Sunday Telegraph. The German government would support an international mission in northern Iraq if authorized by the United Nations, Spiegel reported, citing unidentified people in the German government.
Iraqi shares surged today the most since January 2012 on speculation that Maliki’s resignation will restore stability. ISX General Index jumped 7.1 percent to 101.16 at the close, according to data on bourse website.