A man stands on the banks of the Mosul Dam on the Tigris
River 390km northwest of Baghdad, in this 2007 file photo.
Iraqi Kurdish forces said they recaptured Iraq's biggest
dam from Islamist militants on Monday, as the United States
launched air strikes to secure what has become a vital
strategic objective in fighting that threatens to break up the
An employee at the site, however, said Islamic State fighters
still held the Mosul Dam, giving them control over power and
water supplies and where any breach of the vulnerable
structure would threaten thousands of lives.
US fighter, bomber and drone aircraft took part in the
strikes on Islamic State positions near the dam, the Pentagon
said. The strikes damaged or destroyed six armed vehicles, a
light armoured vehicle and other equipment.
The US military said it believed the air strikes around the
dam had been effective in holding Islamic State militants in
place so Iraqi and Kurdish forces could manoeuvre against
But Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said
operations around the dam were "ongoing" and he was not
prepared yet to say whether it had been retaken by Iraqi
As fighting intensified, Islamic State militants were said to
have killed dozens of Kurdish fighters and captured 170 of
them, according to a Twitter site that supports the group.
The Islamists' seizure of the Mosul hydroelectric dam in
northern Iraq earlier this month marked a stunning setback
for Baghdad's Shi'ite-led authorities and raised fears the
militants could cut electricity and water, or even blow the
shaky structure, causing huge loss of life and damage down
the Tigris river valley.
"The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of
large numbers of civilians, threaten US personnel and
facilities - including the US Embassy in Baghdad - and
prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services
to the Iraqi populace," a senior US administration official
said In Washington.
Iraqi officials hailed what they said was a strategic victory
in regaining control of the dam, and announced that the next
objective would be to win back Mosul itself, the biggest city
in northern Iraq which lies 40 km (25 miles) downstream.
However, any lingering threat to the dam from IS fighters
would be like a gun to the city's head, holding it hostage.
Hoshiyar Zebari, a top Kurdish official, said Iraqi Kurd
forces had captured the dam - blighted by structural problems
since it was built by West German engineers for Saddam
Hussein in the 1980s - with help from US air strikes nearby
in a difficult operation.
"Taking the dam took longer than expected because Islamic
State had planted land mines," he told Reuters.
Baghdad officials vowed to turn the tide against Islamic
State, whose campaign to create a regional caliphate has
threatened to tear Iraq apart.
"The new tactic of launching a quick attack shrouded by
secrecy proved successful and we are determined to keep
following the new assault tactics with help of intelligence
provided by Americans," Sabah Nouri, a spokesman for Iraq's
counter-terrorism unit, told Reuters.
"The next stop will be Mosul."
An employee at the dam, however, contested the government's
version of events. "Islamic State fighters are still in full
control over the dam's facilities and most of them are taking
shelter near the sensitive places of the dam to avoid air
strikes," the employee told Reuters.
The employee gave no further details. However, engineers have
repeatedly expressed concern about the state of the 3.5
km-wide (2.2 mile) dam since Saddam was overthrown in 2003.
A 2006 US Army Corps of Engineers report obtained by the
Washington Post said the dam, which blocks the Tigris and
holds 12 billion cubic metres of water, could flood two
cities killing tens of thousands of people if were destroyed
or collapsed. The report described it as "the most dangerous
dam in the world."
A wall of water could surge as far as Baghdad, 400 km (250
At the time, Iraqi officials described these warnings as
alarmist and said measures were being taken to shore up the
dam that has been weakened by cavities caused by soil being
washed out. These holes need to be constantly refilled but it
is unclear whether this work has continued under the
KURDS WILLING TO TALK
Zebari said officials from his community would join talks on
forming a new, inclusive administration considered vital for
combating the Sunni Muslim militants who have overrun much of
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki stepped down last week after
criticism that his policies, by favouring Shi'ites, had
encouraged some members of the Sunni minority to join the
Islamic State insurgency.
Haider al-Abadi, a fellow Shi'ite with a less confrontational
reputation, has been appointed prime minister-designate to
try to form a government including leaders of Iraq's main
minorities. The aim is to form a united front to take on the
Islamic State, which is accused of brutality and extreme
Last week, tribal leaders and clerics from Iraq's Sunni
heartland also offered conditional backing for a new
government. One of the most influential leaders said he was
willing to work with Abadi provided a new administration
respected the rights of the Sunnis, who dominated Iraq under
A role must also be found for the Baath party, dominant under
Saddam, if a political solution is to be found in Iraq,
fugitive vice president Tarek al-Hashemi said, warning that
US air strikes would do nothing to end the violence.
The United States has helped the Kurds with a series of air
strikes on Islamic State fighters - the first since it pulled
out of the country in 2011 - saying it was preventing
genocide in a conflict that has displaced hundreds of
A number of European Union countries have also armed the
Kurds or said they would do so. However, intervention in Iraq
remains a sensitive political issue.
British Prime Minister David Cameron played down the
possibility of "mission creep" in Iraq, telling the BBC:
"Britain is not going to get involved in another war in