Iraqi Kurdish fighters backed by US warplanes have retaken the country’s largest dam from jihadists, Kurdish officials said, as the United States and Britain step up their military involvement.
The recapture of Mosul dam marks the biggest prize yet clawed back from Islamic State (IS) jihadists since they launched a major offensive in northern Iraq in early June, sweeping Iraqi security forces aside.
IS militants, who have declared a “caliphate” straddling vast areas of Iraq and Syria, also came under air attack in their Syrian stronghold of Raqa yesterday, a monitoring group said.
US President Barack Obama told Congress that the “limited” airstrikes he has authorized on Iraq to retake its largest dam from militants protected US interests there.
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The strikes have been conducted since Friday at the request of the Iraqi government, according to US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
Highlighting the stakes at hand, Obama said: “The failure of the Mosul dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger US personnel and facilities, including the US Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron described the Islamic State fighters sweeping across Syria and Iraq as a direct threat to Britain, and said all available tools most be used to halt their advance.
Cameron, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, said that while it would not be right to send an army into Iraq, some degree of military involvement was justified due to the threat that an expanding “terrorist state” would pose to Europe and its allies.
His Defence Minister Michael Fallon, in comments published today, said Britain’s Iraq involvement now goes beyond a humanitarian mission and is set to last for months.
“We and other countries in Europe are determined to help the government of Iraq combat this new and very extreme form of terrorism,” he was quoted as saying.
The Times reported that six British Tornado jets and a spy plane had begun flying beyond the Kurdish region to provide information on jihadists’ movements that could be used in planning Iraqi military attacks in a “development that brings Britain closer to a direct combat role”.
Two months of violence have brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, and world powers relieved by the exit of divisive premier Nuri al-Maliki are sending aid to the hundreds of thousands who have fled their homes as well as arms to the Kurdish peshmerga forces.
Buoyed by the US air strikes. Kurdish forces are fighting to win back ground they had lost since the start of August, when the jihadists went back on the offensive north, east and west of the city of Mosul, capturing the dam on August 7.
“Mosul Dam was liberated completely,” Ali Awni, an official from Iraq’s main Kurdish party, told AFP.