Iraq’s Biggest Dam at Risk as Islamists Fight Kurds for Control

Kurdish security forces clashed with a breakaway al-Qaeda group that’s trying to extend its control in northern Iraq by seizing the country’s largest dam.

Fighting is raging near the Mosul dam, and it is a “no man’s land,” Sheikh Ahmed Al-Simmari, a resident of the nearby city of Rabia’ah, said in a phone interview. The Kurds retook the Rabia’ah border post with Syria and the nearby town of Sinjar from the militants after fierce fighting late yesterday, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the groups that governs the largely autonomous region of Kurdish northern Iraq, said on its website.

Islamic State, which was previously known as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, has seized 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. The group this week seized two oil fields and predominantly Kurdish towns in the north, forcing thousands to flee their homes, and has threatened another key dam at Haditha.

The Mosul dam, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) 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 collapsed or was sabotaged, it could flood Mosul and surrounding villages.

Energy Wealth

Seizing the dam “would allow the Islamic State to control water systems for the country’s urban areas and farmlands,” Theodore Karasik, director of research at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis in Dubai, said in a phone interview. “It puts them in a position to influence politics by tampering with water suppliers. They would probably cut supplies.”

The dam is still under government control, Abdul-Jaleel Sahib, deputy director general of the state-run Commission for Dams, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Islamic State fighters took over the village of Wana, south of the Mosul dam, Hisham al-Brefkani, a member of the provincial council of Nineveh, said yesterday. Kurdish forces were battling late yesterday to regain it, according to the KDP.

The breakaway al-Qaeda group 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.

Haditha Threat

Its fighters have also made attempts to seize the Haditha dam, on the Euphrates river in Anbar province northwest of Baghdad, in the past two months.

While local tribes have succeeded in fighting off dozens of attacks on Haditha, their resources are stretched, Faleh al-Issawi, deputy head of the provincial council of Anbar, said by phone. The Iraqi army’s presence there is “very weak,” and without support the tribes may not be able to defend the town of Haditha or the dam for more than another 25 days, he said.

Islamic State fighters have 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.

Share prices of explorers of oil in Iraqi Kurdistan region slumped in Oslo and London trading yesterday on the news. DNO International ASA, which gets most of its output from the Kurdish region, fell 10 percent, the most in three years. Genel Energy Plc sank 3.4 percent and Gulf Keystone Petroleum Ltd. dropped 1.6 percent.

Before Kurdish forces regained Sinjar, the militant advance 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, and who are viewed as devil-worshippers by some Sunni Muslims.

Elias Khodayda, a 49-year-old resident, said by phone that the Islamists “captured a large number of old and young men, drove them to an unknown destination.”

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