08/18/2014, 00.00
IRAQ

As Iraqi forces retake Mosul dam, a claim Islamists deny, Chaldean Church makes an appeal for the displaced

Peshmerga and Iraqi forces retake strategic facility with US air support. The dam provides power to northern Iraq. Islamic State militias claim to have repelled the attack. Some reports say fighting in the area continues. Germany opposes an independent Kurdish state. Patriarch Mar Sako and Card Filoni meet refugees.

Erbil (AsiaNews) - Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi army troops regained control of the Mosul dam, expelling Islamic state (IS) militias, which they had seized on 7 August.

Iraqi military spokesman Lt-Gen Qassim Atta said that the dam was back in government hands in the early hours of the morning. Air strikes helped ground troops, the senior army officer said. However, he did not going into details about the possible involvement of US planes during the operation.

If confirmed, this would be the worst defeat for the Islamist militias since last June, when they launched an offensive for the conquest of northern Iraq.

Despite government claims, reports about ongoing fighting continue to filter. Jihadists are apparently still holding onto the dam's main entrance.

An official statement by Caliphate military commanders have in fact denied government claims, saying that its forces repelled Kurdish attacks, inflicting heavy losses on the enemy.

The Mosul dam is of strategic importance for Iraq. It is located on the Tigris River, about 50 km north of Iraq's second largest city, which was the first major city to fall into the hands of Islamist militants.

Built in the 1980s, the dam controls water resources and power supply in a large area in the north of the country. Should it fail or be destroyed by IS, the consequences would be catastrophic even for the capital Baghdad.

US President Barack Obama ordered a series of limited air strikes aimed at retaking of the dam and protecting Washington's strategic interests in the area. The strikes that began on Friday at the request of the Iraqi government are meant to expel the jihadists from the Mosul dam, which is strategically important for the United States.

In doing so, the White House has stepped up its support for the government of the autonomous Kurdish region, which is in turn fuelling local aspirations for independence and division of Iraq into three parts.

Some European governments baulk at that possibility, especially Germany, which is strongly opposed to the creation of an independent Kurdish state. For German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, "An independent Kurdish state would further destabilise the region and trigger new tensions". Instead, the aim, he explained, was "to preserve Iraq's territorial integrity".

Meanwhile, the tragedy of refugees fleeing Islamists and slaughter continues to be played out, this as the power struggle continues in Baghdad with the international community still divided over the fate of the Arab country.

Over the weekend, at least 80 men from the Yazidi minority were killed, with Yazidi women and children imprisoned or sold in into slavery.

So far, the violence has displaced about 1.2 million people in Iraq alone.

In the past two weeks, in the Syrian province of Deir Ezzor, Sunni militants killed more than 700 people from local tribes who opposed their rule.

Against this backdrop, Iraq's Chaldean Church has made a new appeal to the international community to intervene to help displaced families that fled Mosul, the Nineveh Plain and Sinjar.

Pope Francis's personal envoy to Iraq, Card Fernando Filoni, and the Patriarch of Baghdad, Mar Louis Raphael I Sako, issued a joint, three-point statement calling for immediate action to bring emergency supplies, including water and food; the liberation of the occupied areas and the return of refugees; and international protection of villages to ensure peace and security.

Over the weekend, Mar Sako and the cardinal also met Kurdish political leaders and visited Yazidi and Christian refugees in the provinces of Duhok and Erbil.

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