Sunni fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) took over Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam last Sunday, along with three towns and an oilfield according to the commander of the Peshmerga Kurdish fighters who had been defending the facility. Facing minimal opposition, ISIS seized control of Mosul Dam after a 24-hour battle. Workers remain inside the facility.
Seizing dams is a proven tactic used to gain control in warfare; the Mosul Dam gives ISIS the ability to cut electrical power or flood cities located along the Tigris River. It could prove a turning point in Iraq’s mounting civil war, a significant step towards toppling the Shi’ite government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
“If you control the Mosul Dam, you can threaten just about everybody,” Daniel Pipes, President of the Middle East Forum told CNN. He added that ISIS now has the potential to create a massive flood that would not only cause local death and destruction, but also extend 30 miles to Mosul and over 280 miles to Baghdad.
According to Al Arabiya news, ISIS has warned residents in nearby villages along the Syrian border to leave their homes, hinting at a planned assault.
The humanitarian situation of civilians is reported as dire, and they are in urgent need of basic items including food, water and medicine. If floods happen, conditions will rapidly deteriorate, ushering in monumental public health and environmental challenges to this already beleaguered region.
Since thousands of Iraqi soldiers fled ISIS offensives, Shi’ite militias and Kurdish fighters have providing a critical line of defense, but recent losses have shown Kurdish fighters to be ineffective, placing increased pressure on Iraqi leaders to form a power-sharing government capable of countering the Islamic State.
Using social media to promote and propagandize their actions, ISIS tweeted its intention to open the borderline between Ninawa and Dohuk provinces, a linking to a statement which said, “The Islamic Caliphate legions have launched operations towards the northwestern regions…God facilitated for the mujahedeen to break into many important areas controlled by the Kurdish gangs and secular militias.”
With a growing reputation for performing public executions, crucifixions and beheadings as it works its way through towns and villages populated by vulnerable minorities, ISIS is “a dire threat to all Iraqis, the entire region, and the international community,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
The group – which seeks to create an Islamic caliphate that encompasses both Iraq and Syria – is considered the biggest threat to the stability of Iraq since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein.
Image of Mosul Dam from BBC/AFP