MOSCOW, August 18 (RIA Novosti) – Iraqi counterterrorism forces and Kurdish Peshmerga have retaken the Mosul Dam, previously controlled by Islamic State (IS) militants since August 7, AFP reports citing Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassim Atta. According to BBC, he told state television that the dam had been “fully cleansed”.
According to another source, IS militants still control the dam and are hiding in “sensitive places” of the structure to avoid airstrikes, Reuters reports citing an unnamed employee at the dam.
The Islamic State has also issued a statement claiming it repelled the attack of the joint forces on the dam and inflicted heavy losses on the Iraqi and Kurdish fighters, according to BBC.
The operation targeting IS extremists near the largest dam in Iraq started on Sunday.
“Taking the dam took longer than expected because the Islamic State had planted land mines," stated Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s outgoing minister of foreign affairs, as quoted by Reuters.
The United States conducted 14 airstrikes in the area to assist Iraqi and Kurdish forces in halting the advance of the Sunni militants, who control large swathes of Syria and northern Iraq.
US President Barack Obama said that airstrikes “will be limited in their scope and duration as necessary to support the Iraqi forces in their efforts to retake and establish control of this critical infrastructure site,” according to a statement issued by the White House on August 17.
“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,” he added.
Many fear that the Islamic State militants could destroy the Mosul Dam, flood nearby regions or cut power and water supply to over a million people.
The Islamic State militants reportedly control most oil and gas fields in Iraq and Syria and sell crude oil to finance the network of their activists in Damascus and Baghdad.
The Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), is a Sunni group that has been fighting in Syria against the country’s president, Bashar Assad, and launched an offensive in Iraq in June. Later that month, the radicals announced that they established a caliphate on the territory they control forcing hundreds of thousands, including ethnic and religious minorities, to flee.