Iraq Kurds claim capture of strategic dam from Islamic State
Iraqi Kurdish forces said they recaptured Iraq's biggest dam from Islamist militants, as the United States launched air strikes to secure what has become a vital strategic objective in fighting that threatens to break up the country.
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 them.
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 forces.
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 U.S. 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.