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Militants capture Iraq’s biggest dam

The Mosul Dam

Baghdad, Aug. 3 (Reuters): Islamic State fighters seized control of Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns today after inflicting their first major defeat on Kurdish forces since sweeping through the region in June.

Capture of the electricity generating Mosul Dam, after an offensive of barely 24 hours, could give the Sunni militants the ability to flood major Iraqi cities or withhold water from farms, raising the stakes in their bid to topple Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government.

“The terrorist gangs of the Islamic State have taken control of Mosul Dam after the withdrawal of Kurdish forces without a fight,” said Iraqi state television. However, the New York Times said an official at the water resources ministry denied the report.

The swift withdrawal of Kurdish “peshmerga” troops whose name means “those who confront death” was an apparent severe blow to one of the only forces in Iraq that until now had stood firm against the Sunni Islamist fighters.

The Islamic State, which sees Iraq’s majority Shias as apostates who deserve to be killed, also seized the Ain Zalah oil field — adding to four others already under its control which provide funding for operations — and three towns.

Initially strong Kurdish resistance evaporated after the start of an offensive to take the town of Zumar. The Islamists then hoisted their black flags there, a ritual that often has preceded mass executions of their captured opponents and the imposition of an ideology even al Qaida finds excessive.

The group, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, poses the biggest challenge to the stability of OPEC member Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003

Two people who live near Mosul Dam said Kurdish troops had loaded their vehicles with belongings, including air conditioners, and fled.

Islamic State fighters attacked Zumar from three directions in pick-up trucks mounted with weapons, defeating Kurdish forces, witnesses said.

The Islamic State later also seized the town of Sinjar, where witnesses said residents had fled after Kurdish fighters put up little resistance.

 
 
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