ISIS captures Iraqi dam, floods areas

Published Friday, April 11, 2014

Insurgents in Iraq have added water to their arsenal of weapons after seizing control of a dam in the west of the country that enables them to flood certain areas and prevent security forces from advancing against them.

The dam helps distribute water from the Euphrates river on its course through the western province of Anbar, and is located some 5 kilometers south of the city of Fallujah, which was overrun by militants early this year.

Iraqi troops have since been surrounding Fallujah and shelling the city in an effort to dislodge anti-government tribes and insurgent factions including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

In February, ISIS took control of the Nuaimiya area where the dam is located, and began fortifying their positions with concrete blast walls and sand bags, according to anti-government tribesmen who said no other groups were involved in the takeover.

The militants closed all eight of the dam's 10 gates one week ago, flooding land upstream and reducing water levels in Iraq's southern provinces, through which the Euphrates flows before emptying into the Gulf.

Anti-government tribal fighters said ISIS's tactic was to flood the area around the city to force troops to retreat and lift the siege on Fallujah.

"Using water as a weapon in a fight to make people thirsty is a heinous crime," said Oun Dhiyab, a government adviser to the water ministry. "Closing the dam and messing with Euphrates water will have dire consequences."

By Thursday, militants had re-opened five of the dam's gates to relieve some pressure, fearing their strategy would backfire by flooding their own stronghold of Fallujah, some 70 kilometers (44 miles) west of Baghdad.

Iraqi security officials said flooding around the city had already forced many families to leave their homes and prevented troops from deploying or operating properly there in order to stop militants encroaching on the capital.

"They (ISIS) want to use the flood waters to make it difficult for the security forces to deploy in those areas and this is their chance to move the battle outside Fallujah," said an anti-government tribal leader inside the city.

The Fallujah dam is also key to a number of irrigation projects in the desert province of Anbar, which shares a border with Syria.

In his weekly televised address, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who held off a full-on ground assault on Fallujah, vowed to exact revenge from the militants for interfering with the water supply.

"The murderers took advantage of the government policy of utmost restraint in Fallujah ... But it seems the situation has become more complicated and necessitates confrontation," Maliki said.

(Reuters)

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