Iraqi Kurds reclaim strategic dam from ISIS

US fighter, bomber and drone aircrafts took part in the strikes on ISIS positions near the Mosul Dam.

A Kurdish peshmerga fighter looks at smoke rising in the horizon following US airstrikes targeting ISIS militants at Mosul Dam on 18 August 2014. Picture: AFP

BAGHDAD - Iraqi and Kurdish forces recaptured Iraq's biggest dam from Islamist militants with the help of US air strikes to secure a vital strategic objective in fighting that threatens to break up the country, Kurdish and US officials said on Monday.

US fighter, bomber and drone aircraft took part in the strikes on Islamic State positions near the Mosul Dam, the Pentagon said. The strikes damaged or destroyed six armed vehicles, a light armored vehicle and other equipment.

The dam had given the militants control over power and water supplies, and any breach of the vulnerable structure would have threatened thousands of lives.

US President Barack Obama said Iraqi and Kurdish forces had retaken the dam with US help. US air strikes this month are the first in Iraq since the United States pulled out in 2011

"This operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together in taking the fight to ISIS (Islamic State), and if they continue to do so they will have the strong support of the United States of America," Obama told a news conference.

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 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 up 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 downstream.

"MOST DANGEROUS DAM"

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 meters of water, could flood two cities killing tens of thousands of people if it were destroyed or collapsed. The report called it "the most dangerous dam in the world."

A wall of water could surge as far as Baghdad, 400 away.

At the time, Iraqi officials described the 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 militants.

Zebari said officials from his community would join talks on forming a new, inclusive administration considered vital for battling the Sunni Muslim militants who have overrun much of the country.

P rime Minister Nuri al-Maliki stepped down last week after criticism that his policies, by favoring 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 Islamic State.