Middle East

Kurds fight to retake Iraq's largest dam

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters monitor the area from their front line position in Bashiqa, a town 13 kilometres north-east of Mosul on August 16, 2014. (AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)

BAGHDAD: Kurdish forces backed by U.S. warplanes battled Saturday to retake Iraq's largest dam from ISIS fighters, whose latest atrocity was a massacre in a Yezidi village.

Two months of violence have brought Iraq to the brink of breakup, and world powers relieved by the exit of long-time premier Nouri al-Maliki were flying aid to the displaced and arms to the Kurds.

Kurdish forces attacked the ISIS fighters who wrested the Mosul dam from them a week earlier, a general told AFP.

"Kurdish peshmerga, with U.S. air support, have seized control of the eastern side of the dam" complex, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Rahman Korini told AFP, saying several jihadists had been killed.

Buoyed by the airstrikes U.S. President Barack Obama ordered last week, the peshmerga have tried to claw back the ground they lost since the start of August.

The dam on the Tigris provides electricity to much of the region and is crucial to irrigation in vast farming areas in Ninevah province.

The recapture of Mosul dam would be one of the most significant achievements in a fightback that is also getting international material support.

A day after the European Union foreign ministers encouraged the bloc's member countries to send arms to the Kurds, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Iraq.

Steinmeier, whose country hosts the largest Yezidi diaspora in the West, visited the autonomous region to assess the needs of the displaced and the peshmerga.

Fear of an impending genocide against the Yezidi minority, whose faith is anathema to the Sunniextremists, was one reason Washington cited for airstrikes it began on August 8.

Obama declared the Mount Sinjar siege over Thursday, but vulnerable civilians remain in areas taken by the jihadists.

In Kocho, senior Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari said the jihadists "took their revenge on its inhabitants, who happened to be mostly Yezidis who did not flee their homes."

Human rights groups and residents say ISIS fighters have demanded that villagers in the Sinjar area convert or leave, unleashing violent reprisals on any who refused.

A senior official of one of Iraq's main Kurdish parties said 81 people had lost their lives in the Friday attack, while a Yezidi activist said the death toll could be even higher.

The village lies near the northwestern town of Sinjar, which the jihadists stormed on Aug. 3 sending tens of thousands of civilians, many of them Yezidi Kurds, fleeing into the mountains to the north.

They hid there for days with little food or water.

Mohsen Tawwal, a Yezidi fighter, said he saw a large number of bodies in Kocho Friday.

"We made it into a part of Kocho village, where residents were under siege, but we were too late," he told AFP by telephone.

"There were corpses everywhere. We only managed to get two people out alive. The rest had all been killed."

The Pentagon announced that U.S. drones had struck an ISIS convoy leaving the village Friday after receiving reports that residents were under attack.

The outcome of the latest U.S. strike was not immediately clear.

Amnesty International, which has been documenting mass abductions in the Sinjar area, says ISIS has kidnapped thousands of Yezidis since it launched its offensive in the region on Aug. 3.

Members of the Christian, Turkmen and other minorities have also been affected by the violence.





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