The Kurdish peshmarga forces form currently the frontline in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Since June, they have been defending a 600-mile border against the ISIS. By Sunday, they had managed to take over parts of the Mosul dam, two weeks after it was captured by the ISIS. US and Iraqi planes aided their advance
The peshmarga, whose name translates as “those who confront death”, are Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq — a region officially governed by the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government.
The peshmarga were formally organised as a national fighting force after the fall of the Ottoman Empire post World War I. It was then that the Kurds began vying for an independent state of their own.
By the time of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the peshmarga had developed into an effective guerrilla fighting force.
Through the 1990s, the peshmarga continued to battle Iraqi forces for independence.
After 1998, the Kurds worked together with the US, and peshmarga forces were key in the eventual toppling of Saddam Hussein.
The peshmarga, with around 1.9 lakh official fighters, have not faced a major test since Saddam was removed from power.
Many now work a second job to supplement an average salary of $560 per month.
Peshmarga forces are mainly equipped with Soviet-era weapons looted from the Iraqi army during the 2003 US-led invasion. The easily-available AK-47, developed by the Soviets, is the standard assault rifle of the peshmarga troops.
The peshmarga have taken up defensive positions and have been battling ISis militants more effectively than the Iraqi army.
The US government has now begun supplying arms to the Kurds directly.
Last week, they rescued over 20,000 Yazidis from Mount Sinjar.
The control of the Mosul dam, located on the Tigris river, around 50 km from Mosul city, plays an important role in this war. It controls water and power supply to north Iraq
The ISIS threat
Through control of Mosul dam, it could cut off water and electricity supply to north Iraq. It could create drought-like situation in Baghdad by controlling the water released. This could affect the agrarian sector and even result in a famine.
The biggest concern, however, is that ISIS could destroy the dam, sending a 60-foot wave down the Tigris river. The wave would wash away Mosul, a city of 1.5 million people, and flood Baghdad days later. It could cause 500,000 deaths.
Construction on what was formerly called the ‘Saddam dam’ began in 1980 under Saddam Hussein’s regime.
the dam can produce 1,000 MW of power and can hold over 12 billion cubic metres of water, crucial for irrigation in the western Nineveh province.
Saddam built it as a symbol of the strength of Iraq and his leadership, but critics and engineers consider it to be an “ill-considered infrastructure project” with very weak foundations.
A 2006 report by the US Army Corps of Engineers noted that in terms of the “internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul dam is the most dangerous dam in the world”.
ISIS has been attempting to take over other dams in Iraq. It already controls other key national assets such as oil and gas fields in western Iraq and Syria.
The Fallujah dam in Iraq’s Anbar province fell under ISIS control in February. Earlier this month, ISIS reportedly closed eight of Fallujah dam’s 10 lock gates that control the river flow, flooding land up the Euphrates river and reducing water levels in Iraq’s southern provinces, through which the river passes.
However, the group has so far failed in its attempts to capture the Haditha dam, Iraq’s second largest.