Iraq: Kurdish Forces Retake Mosul Dam from 'Islamic State'

Kurdish Peshmerga, backed by US Air Force, inflict heaviest defeat on Islamic State since its rapid advance through Iraq.

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Ari Soffer,

A member of Kurdish Peshmerga forces takes ai
A member of Kurdish Peshmerga forces takes ai

Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq have retaken the country's largest dam from Islamic State forces, in an important strategic advance.

Backed by US air support Kurdish fighters ended IS's 11-day control of the dam, which gave them effective control of northern Iraq's water and electricity supply. There were also fears the Islamists could use the dam to flood neighboring towns and villages to drive out opposition to its rapid advance.

The retaking of Mosul dam is the biggest reversal for the Islamic State - formerly known as ISIS - since it swept through Iraq, taking the second city of Mosul and embarking on a campaign to "cleanse" the area of all non-Sunni-Muslim communities.

Kurdish forces encountered fierce resistance, but were eventually able to drive out the jihadis.

US President Barack Obama defended his decision to authorize air strikes against IS to enable the Kurds to capture the dam, saying that in doing so he was defending key American interests.

"The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, threaten U.S. personnel and facilities - including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad - and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace," the White House said in a statement. 

"These operations are limited in their nature, duration, and scope and are being undertaken in coordination with and at the request of the government of Iraq." 

A small contingent of American special forces are also operating on the ground to help direct the air strikes, Kurdish officials say.

Meanwhile, humanitarian aid continues to be delivered to thousands of Yazidis trapped in the Sinjar Mountains while fleeing IS's ultimatum to convert or die. The ancient Yazidi community has been particularly targeted by the Islamic State, with reports of large-scale massacres and systematic rape drawing concerns of an impending genocide if rapid action is not taken.