Sunni militants from the Islamic State group on Thursday seized Iraq’s largest dam, placing them in control of enormous power and water resources and access to the river that runs through the heart of Baghdad.
After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told Associated Press. They spoke anonymously for safety concerns.
The Islamic State group, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, posted a statement online Thursday, confirming that they had taken control of the dam and vowed to continue “the march in all directions,” adding that it will not “give up the great Caliphate project.” The group added that it has seized a total of 17 cities, towns and targets – including the dam – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.
Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Peshmerga, told Associated Press that clashes around the dam are ongoing and he does not know who is in control at this point in time.
The Mosul Dam, or Saddam Dam, as it was once known, is located north of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10.
NORTHERN IRAQ: CHRISTIAN TOWNS SEIZED AS POPE CALLS FOR AID
Late Wednesday, militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Erbil.
Pope Francis called for world governments to help northern Iraq’s Christian refugees. In a statement Thursday – his second such appeal in as many weeks – Francis urged the international community to “put an end to the humanitarian drama underway, adopt measures to protect those who are threatened by violence and assure them necessary aid, especially urgent for those who are homeless and depend on the solidarity of others.”
The Islamic State sees Iraq’s majority Shiites and minorities such as Christians and Yazidis as infidels.
ARSAL: LEBANESE SOLDIERS TAKEN CAPTIVE BY ISLAMISTS
Islamist militants have mostly withdrawn from Arsal, the Lebanese border town they seized over the weekend, taking with them captive Lebanese soldiers, militant and security sources said on Thursday.
A truce to end the deadly battle appeared to be holding. Muslim clerics who had been mediating an end to five days of fighting in Arsal said they would negotiate for the release of remaining captives held by militants whose incursion into Lebanon marked the most serious spillover of Syria’s three-year-old civil war into Lebanese territory. Dozens of people have been killed in the battle between the army and Islamists from groups including the Islamic State.
“The withdrawal happened at dawn, with the hostages,” one of the withdrawing militants told Reuters by telephone. “They could be released later in stages.” A security source confirmed the militants had taken the captives with them.
The dead include 17 Lebanese soldiers. A Syrian doctor in Arsal put the total civilian death toll at 42, while security sources have reported dozens of fatalities among the militants. Security officials say 19 soldiers are still missing, presumed taken by the militants when they attacked Arsal on Saturday in what the army described as long-planned attack. More than a dozen policemen were also taken captive.
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