Kurds battle to retake Iraq’s largest dam
BAGHDAD // Kurdish forces backed by US warplanes battled on Saturday to retake Iraq’s largest dam from Islamic State fighters, whose latest atrocity was a massacre in a Yazidi village.
Two months of violence have brought Iraq to the brink of break-up, and world powers relieved by the exit of long-time premier Nouri Al Maliki were flying aid to the displaced and arms to the Kurds.
Kurdish forces attacked Islamic State militants who wrested the Mosul dam from them a week earlier, a general said.
“Kurdish peshmerga, with US air support, have seized control of the eastern side of the dam” complex, Major General Abdelrahman Korini said, saying several militants had been killed.
Buoyed by the air strikes US president Barack Obama ordered last week, the peshmerga have tried to claw back the ground they lost since the start of August.
The dam on the Tigris provides electricity to much of the region and is crucial to irrigation in vast farming areas in Nineveh province.
The recapture of Mosul dam would be one of the most significant achievements in a fightback that is also getting international material support.
A day after the European Union foreign ministers encouraged the bloc’s member countries to send arms to the Kurds, German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Iraq.
Mr Steinmeier, whose country hosts the largest Yazidi diaspora in the West, visited the autonomous region to assess the needs of the displaced and the peshmerga.
Fear of an impending genocide against the Yazidi minority, whose faith is anathema to the Sunni Muslim extremists, was one reason Washington cited for air strikes it began on August 8.
Mr Obama declared the Mount Sinjar siege over on Thursday, but vulnerable civilians remain in areas taken by the militants.
In Kocho, senior Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari said the Islamic State “took their revenge on its inhabitants, who happened to be mostly Yazidis who did not flee their homes”.
Human rights groups and residents say the militants have demanded that villagers in the Sinjar area convert or leave, unleashing violent reprisals on any who refused.
A senior official of one of Iraq’s main Kurdish parties said 81 people had lost their lives in the Friday attack, while a Yazidi activist said the death toll could be even higher.
The village lies near the northwestern town of Sinjar, which the militants stormed on August 3 sending tens of thousands of civilians, many of them Yazidi Kurds, fleeing into the mountains to the north.
They hid there for days with little food or water.
Mohsen Tawwal, a Yazidi fighter, said he saw a large number of bodies in Kocho on Friday.
“We made it into a part of Kocho village, where residents were under siege, but we were too late,” he said.
“There were corpses everywhere. We only managed to get two people out alive. The rest had all been killed.”
The Pentagon announced that US drones had struck an Islamic State convoy leaving the village on Friday after receiving reports that residents were under attack.
The outcome of the latest US strike was not immediately clear.
Amnesty International, which has been documenting mass abductions in the Sinjar area, says Islamic State has kidnapped thousands of Yazidis since it launched its offensive in the region on August 3.
Members of the Christian, Turkmen and other minorities have also been affected by the violence.
In New York, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution aimed at weakening the Islamic State, who control large areas of neighbouring Syria as well as of Iraq.
The resolution “calls on all member states to take national measures to suppress the flow of foreign terrorist fighters”, and threatens sanctions against anyone involved in their recruitment.
When the Islamic State began their Iraq offensive on June 9, Kurdish peshmerga forces initially fared better than retreating federal soldiers, but the US-made weaponry abandoned by government troops turned IS into an even more formidable foe.
They were able to sweep through the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in early June, encountering little effective resistance.
Many in and outside Iraq say the Shiite-led government was partly to blame by pushing sectarian policies that have marginalised and radicalised the Sunni minority.
Outgoing premier Nouri Al Maliki was seen as an obstacle to any progress, and his announcement on Thursday that he was abandoning his efforts to cling to power was welcomed with a sigh of relief at home and abroad.
In another potentially game-changing development, 25 Sunni tribes in the western province of Anbar, including some that had previously been on the fence, announced on Friday that they were launching a coordinated effort to oust Islamic State fighters.
* Agence France-Presse
Published: August 16, 2014 04:00 AM