Both Iraq and Kurdish Peshmerga forces have claimed a rare victory over ISIS this morning, the first in many months of setbacks and collapses. According to both, the Iraqi flag flies once more over the Mosul Dam, a critical piece of infrastructure and a potential time bomb that could kill as many as 500,000 Iraqis if destroyed:
Iraqi state television reported Monday that Iraqi national and Kurdish “peshmerga” forces had retaken the key Mosul dam from Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), but the fighting didn’t appear to be over.
If confirmed, reclamation of the nation’s largest dam would be a hugely symbolic and strategic victory in the months-long battle against ISIS, which has wrested control of a vast swath of north and west Iraq and eastern Syria.
The reports on State TV quoted a spokesman for the Iraqi military, but peshmerga fighters told CBS News they were advancing on the dam complex slowly and cautiously amid concerns that ISIS fighters might have left behind IEDs or mines, and possibly rigged parts of the dam itself with explosives.
Fox News reports that they have confirmation from multiple sources that the whole dam has now been liberated from ISIS:
Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters have wrested control of the vital Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq, from Islamic State militants, a senior official in the peshmerga forces told Fox News Monday.
Spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi told The Associated Press the troops were backed by aerial support, but he didn’t specify whether there were U.S. airstrikes during the battle, adding that the troops “fully liberated” the dam Monday and “hoisted the Iraqi flag over it.”
The retaking of the entire dam complex on the Tigris River and the territory surrounding its reservoir is a significant victory against the Islamic State, the militant group formerly known as ISIS, which seized large swaths of northern and western Iraq this summer. It is the first major success for Iraqi and Kurdish forces since U.S. airstrikes began earlier this month.
The dam and its broader complex hold great strategic value as they supply electricity and water to a large part of the country.
The Associated Press was not quite as sanguine, and there are reports that control of the dam is still contested:
Boosted by two days of U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces on Monday wrested back control of the country’s largest dam from Islamic militants, a military spokesman in Baghdad said as fighting was reported to be underway for the rest of the strategic complex.
Soon after the news broke, the Islamic State group, which two weeks ago captured the Mosul Dam spanning the Tigris River just north of the city of Mosul, denied the claim, insisting it was still in control of the facility. …
Iraq’s Ministry of Defense said security forces “liberated a large part of the Mosul Dam” with the help of U.S. airstrikes, adding that forces are working to fully free the entire complex. U.S. Central Command would not immediately confirm any involvement.
However, a senior Kurdish commander told The Associated Press that his peshmerga forces had withdrawn from the dam complex on Monday afternoon because it was heavily rigged with explosives. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.
In an Internet statement, the Islamic State denied losing control of the dam, dismissing the government claim as “mere propaganda war.” The statement, which could not be independently verified, was posted on a website frequently used by the militants.
If the Kurdish and Iraqi forces have not yet taken control of the dam, it may be more dangerous than ever. Engineers have long had concerns about the stability of the dam even when no fighting takes place. If ISIS has booby-trapped the dam, it may not take much to destroy it and kill tens of thousands of Iraqis immediately, and maybe hundreds of thousands in a short period of time. When it comes to control of this particular facility, half-measures and partial victories won’t do.
Still, the sudden reversal of momentum comes as good news after months of horror in the Iraqi desert. ISIS hasn’t had too many setbacks in their sweep from Syria to almost the gates of Baghdad and Irbil. A few bloody noses, plus a new government in Baghdad, could have some of the Sunni tribal leaders looking for a better deal than their current one with the genocidal freaks of ISIS. The US air intervention should continue, and if this result holds up, shows that it should have started long before the Yazidis faced a genocide on Mount Sinjar.