THE LEVANT – Iraqi officials said on Monday that Kurdish and Iraqi forces had succeeded in retaking Mosul Dam from fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, although it was unclear whether they had seized control of the entire dam and the surrounding complex.
Iraqi state television quoted Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi military spokesman, as saying that Iraqi special forces and Kurdish militias were in command of the dam, the largest in Iraq. Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurdish leader and the foreign minister in Iraqi’s departing government, also said by telephone Monday that the dam was in the hands of Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
But as of midday, no photographs or videos had been released showing the security forces inside the dam, and the Kurdish military was preventing journalists from approaching the area and keeping residents from returning to their homes in villages nearby.
A commander for the Kurdish pesh merga forces in the area, Gen. Omer Ibrahim, said that ISIS fighters had abandoned the dam complex and retreated to a nearby front. But the complex itself was heavily mined, meaning the pesh merga could not fully enter it and prolonging the push to fully occupy the dam.
From the town of Badriya northwest of the dam, where peshmerga forces were running a checkpoint, smoke could be seen rising from near the area, suggesting fresh airstrikes. At one point, more than a dozen armored personnel carriers full of Kurdish military officers came through, heading toward the dam.
Although a series of American airstrikes on ISIS positions near the dam had allowed Kurdish forces to reclaim nearby villages and to approach the area, Kurdish officers said the militants had slowed the progress of the military forces by planting roadside bombs.
A large truck arrived at the checkpoint carrying more than two dozen metal cylinders strewn with wires. Idris Mohammed, a Kurdish military officer, said they were bombs that Kurdish sappers had removed from a village near the dam.
The airstrikes appeared to have forced the insurgents to flee, or at least to seek cover, and only light clashes were reported as Kurdish forces approached the dam. In response to the latest developments, the checkpoint was crowded with hundreds of residents who had fled villages near the dam and wanted to return to check on their homes.
The dam is on the Tigris River, about 30 miles from Mosul, and is a crucial source of electricity for the city, the second-largest in Iraq. It is also a control point for the water supply for a larger area, and the seizure of the dam by the ISIS militants raised fears that a 65-foot wave of water could be released over northern Iraq.