9 August 2014

ISIS Reportedly Captures Iraq’s Largest Dam

Alissa J. Rubin and Tim Arango 
New York Times 
August 7, 2014 

ISIS Forces Appear to Capture Iraq’s Largest Dam 
Civilians fleeing the fighting in northern Iraq on Wednesday arrived at a Kurdish pesh merga checkpoint between Erbil and Mosul. Credit Adam Ferguson for The New York Times ERBIL, Iraq — Sunni militants appeared on Thursday to have captured the Mosul dam, the largest in Iraq, as their advances in the country’s north created an onslaught of refugees and set off fearful rumors in Erbil, the Kurdish regional capital. 

An official in the office of Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdish regional government, said Thursday afternoon that Kurdish forces, or pesh merga, were still fighting for control of the dam. But several other sources, including residents of the area and a Kurdish security official, said it had already been captured by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, a potentially catastrophic development for Iraq’s civilian population. 

The dam, which sits on the Tigris River and is about 30 miles northwest of the city of Mosul, provides electricity to Mosul and controls the water supply for a large amount of territory. A report published in 2007 by the United States government, which had been involved with work on the dam, warned that should it fail, a 65-foot wave of water could be unleashed across areas of northern Iraq. 

Atheel al-Nujaifi, the governor of Nineveh Province, whose capital is Mosul, said in a telephone interview from northern Iraq, where he has fled, that ISIS had secured the dam after what he called an “organized retreat” of the pesh merga. 

ISIS seized Mosul, which is Iraq’s second-largest city, on June 10, and began its latest offensive this week. In a statement issued on a social media account believed to belong to the group, it claimed that it had captured the dam and vowed to continue its offensive northward as it consolidates control and continues to realize its goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate that bridges the borders of Syria and Iraq. 

“Our Islamic State forces are still fighting in all directions and we will not step down until the project of the caliphate is established, with the will of God,” the statement said. 

ISIS continued on Thursday to battle pesh merga forces for control of towns east of Mosul, in the direction of Erbil, and civilians hoping to flee the fighting flooded the Erbil airport and swamped the Iraqi Airways office in a futile attempt to get tickets to Baghdad. 

In the early hours of Thursday, forces from the Kurdish pesh merga left checkpoints guarding several largely Christian settlements east of Mosul because they had been called to defend Kurdish towns closer to Erbil, according to a colonel in the Kurdish Defense Ministry. 

By late Wednesday, Kurdish television was reporting that Mahmour and Gwar, two Kurdish settlements less than 20 miles west of Erbil, had fallen to ISIS. By Thursday morning, a colonel in the pesh merga said that Mahmour had been retaken, while militants remained in control of Gwar. 

The latest ISIS push followed its pattern of exploratory attacks on the outskirts of an area it wants to take. On Wednesday, it repelled Kurdish efforts east of Mosul and shelled Qaraqosh, which is one of several largely Christian settlements in the area between Mosul and Erbil, 60 miles to the east. As plumes of smoke drifted across the plains of Nineveh between Mosul and Erbil, panicked residents fled from the settlements there in cars and pickup trucks piled with belongings, creating lines more than half a mile long at checkpoints guarded by the pesh merga. 

On Thursday, many villagers who had not already left departed hurriedly, throwing just a few items in suitcases, said Father Amar, a Syrian Catholic priest from Bartella, one of the largely Christian settlements, who had left with them. Shortly afterward, he said, he spoke to some who had decided to remain, and they reported that ISIS had taken the town. 

Father Amar said that there were “thousands” of Christian and Arab families marooned at the main pesh merga checkpoint trying to enter the Kurdish region on Thursday morning. No one was being allowed to pass, he said. 

West of Mosul, some of the thousands of Iraqi civilians who fled into the mountains around the town of Sinjar have been rescued, United Nations officials said Thursday, but details of the operation remained sketchy. 

“Some people have been extracted over the past 24 hours,” said Jens Laerke, a spokesman in Geneva for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, but he could not confirm how many had left or where they had been taken. 

United Nations officials have estimated that 10,000 to 40,000 were trapped in the mountains after ISIS defeated Kurdish forces in the area and attacked Sinjar three days ago. 

Most of the civilians are believed to be members of the Yazidi minority, which, like other ethnic and religious minorities in the area, has already been the target of abductions by ISIS forces, according to the United Nations. Reports had reached Erbil that more than 200,000 Yazidis had left Sinjar with nothing except what they were wearing. Yazidis had asked the United Nations and humanitarian organizations to airdrop supplies to them because they could not leave the mountains without being intercepted by ISIS forces. 

As the fighting expanded in the north, violence also unfolded elsewhere. In Kirkuk, a northern city long divided between Arabs and Kurds that is now under Kurdish control, two explosions struck near a Shiite mosque, killing 11 people and wounding more than 50 others. In Baghdad, a suicide car bomber struck in Kadhimiya, a Shiite district that is home to an important shrine, killing 15 and wounding 25 others, according to a hospital official and the local police. 

No comments: