August 18, 2014 in Nation/World

Kurdish, U.S. forces retake Mosul Dam

Patrick J. Mcdonnell And David S. Cloud McClatchy-Tribune
 
Associated Press photo

Kurdish forces known as peshmerga stand guard near Mosul Dam at the town of Chamibarakat, Iraq, on Sunday. Kurdish forces took over parts of the dam less than two weeks after it was captured by the Islamic State.
(Full-size photo)

Mosul poses challenge

Kurdish authorities have voiced the hope that attacking in coordination with U.S. aerial forces would enable the peshmerga to win back much of the territory lost to the militants in early August. But military commanders acknowledge that advancing into the militant-controlled city of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, would be a much larger challenge. The Islamic State forces enjoy considerable support in Mosul, where many of the largely Sunni Muslim residents regarded the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army as an occupation force. Iraqi government troops pulled out of Mosul in June as militants overran the city with the help of local allies, including former stalwarts of the Baath Party of ex-strongman Saddam Hussein.

IRBIL, Iraq – Kurdish Iraqi fighters were reported to have taken back much of a strategic dam in northern Iraq on Sunday as the United States stepped up its bombardment of Islamic militant positions in the region.

Late Sunday, news agencies quoting Kurdish officials reported the gains at the Mosul Dam, a huge structure on the Tigris River and a key source of power and water for northern Iraq. Regaining control of the dam would be a major victory for Kurdish authorities, who were embarrassed in early August when Islamic State fighters overran the dam and other areas nominally under Kurdish control, forcing a hasty withdrawal of peshmerga forces, as the Kurdish fighters are known.

The expanding presence of U.S. air power has clearly buoyed the spirits of Kurdish fighters, who came under considerable criticism at home for their retreat in the face of the Islamic State advance.

Kurdish fighters on Sunday also took back several villages from the militants, including the town of Tel Skuf, according to news reports in Iraq.

In Washington, the Pentagon said U.S. warplanes had stepped up attacks near the dam, conducting 14 strikes on Sunday, the second day of the joint operation with Iraqi and Kurdish troops.

The airstrikes, which for the first time included bombers along with fighters and drones, were the most carried out by the U.S. in a single day since the attacks began two weeks ago.

The Rudaw Kurdish news site quoted a peshmerga commander as saying the Kurds had launched a “wide-ranging” assault in coordination with U.S. airstrikes. But the commander and Western officials monitoring the fighting said progress was being slowed by explosives planted in the ground by fighters of the Islamic State, an al-Qaida breakaway group.

U.S. strikes near the Mosul Dam on Sunday damaged or destroyed 10 armed vehicles, seven Humvees, two armored personnel carriers and a checkpoint, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

In announcing the attacks, Central Command broadened the justification for them, for the first time saying that the United States was “supporting” Iraqi and Kurdish troops on the ground.

President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that military action would be limited to protecting U.S. personnel in Iraq and to give humanitarian aid.

But the airstrikes have intensified since the resignation last week of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom the White House had sought for months to force from power.

The stepped-up military effort had been promised by the White House if Maliki left office.

Get stories like this in a free daily email