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Home > fundamentalism / shrinking secular space > Iraq: Sunni insurgents ’seize Iraq’s biggest dam’ in defeat for Kurdish (...)

Iraq: Sunni insurgents ’seize Iraq’s biggest dam’ in defeat for Kurdish forces

Monday 4 August 2014, by siawi3

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/04/sunni-seize-iraqs-dam-defeat-kurdish

State television says vital facility and nearby towns have fallen to Isis in a major blow for Kurds and Baghdad’s Maliki government

theguardian.com, Monday 4 August 2014 01.07 BST

Photo: People flee Sinjar in Dohuk province in Iraqi Kurdistan on Sunday in the face of attacks by Isis. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Sunni insurgents have reportedly seized control of Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns after inflicting their first major defeat on Kurdish forces since sweeping across much of northern Iraq in June.

Capture of the electricity-generating Mosul Dam, which was reported by Iraqi state television, could give the forces of the Islamic State (Isis) the ability to flood Iraqi cities or withhold water from farms, raising the stakes in their bid to topple prime minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government.

“The terrorist gangs of the Islamic State have taken control of Mosul dam after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces without a fight,†said Iraqi state television of the claimed 24 hour offensive.

Kurdish officials conceded losses to Isis but denied the dam had been surrendered. A Kurdish official in Washington told Reuters the dam was still under the control of Kurdish “peshmerga†troops, although he said towns around the dam had fallen to Isis.

“The situation has taken a turn for the worse over the weekend,†said Karwan Zebari, an official with the Kurdistan regional government’s office in Washington.

He said peshmerga fighters were preparing for a “major offensive†on Sunday night to take back control of towns near the dam.

The swift withdrawal of the peshmerga troops was an apparent severe blow to one of the few forces in Iraq that until now had stood firm against the Sunni Islamist fighters who aim to redraw the borders of the Middle East.

Isis, which sees Iraq’s majority Shia as apostates who deserve to be killed, also seized three towns and the Ain Zalah oilfield, adding to four others already under its control that provide funding for operations.

Initially strong Kurdish resistance evaporated after the start of an offensive to take the town of Zumar. The Islamists then hoisted their black flags there, a ritual that has often preceded mass executions of their captured opponents and the imposition of an ideology even al-Qaida finds excessively harsh.

The group, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria to rule over all Muslims, poses the biggest challenge to the stability of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The US state department said in a statement that Washington was “actively monitoring†the situation in Iraq and was helping facilitate coordination between Iraq’s military and Kurdish forces.

On Sunday, Isis members were also involved in fighting in a border town far away in Lebanon, a sign of the group’s ambitions across the frontiers of the Middle East.

It controls cities in Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates valleys north and west of Baghdad, and a section of Syria stretching from the Iraqi border in the east to Aleppo in the northwest.

Iraq’s Kurds, who rule themselves in a northern enclave guarded by the peshmerga units, had expanded areas under their control in recent weeks while avoiding direct confrontation with the Isis, even as Iraqi central government troops fled.

But the towns lost on Sunday were in territory the Kurds had held for many years, undermining suggestions that the Isis’s advance has helped the Kurdish cause.

Witnesses said Isis fighters were also trying to take control of the town of Rabia near the Syrian border and were engaged in clashes with Syrian Kurds who had crossed the frontier after Iraqi Kurds withdrew.

The latest gains have placed Isis near Dohuk province, one of three in the autonomous Kurdish region, which has been spared any serious threat to its security while war raged throughout the rest of Iraq.