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Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants from the Islamic State group seized Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam on Thursday, giving them control of enormous power and water resources and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

The fighting has trapped tens of thousands of members of religious minorities on a mountaintop. On President Barack Obama’s order, humanitarian supplies were airdropped for them, according to a Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity. But Obama was still weighing whether to combine that assistance with U.S. airstrikes, officials said Thursday night.

Airstrikes would mark a significant shift in the U.S. strategy in Iraq, where the military fully withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war. Officials said Obama could announce a decision as early as Thursday night. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name.

Thursday’s dam seizure was the latest in a string of victories by the Sunni radical group as it expands its hold in northern Iraq, driving back Kurdish forces, sending minority communities fleeing and unleashing bombings that have killed more than 90 people in the capital over the past two days.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam Thursday and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

The al-Qaida breakaway group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowing to continue “the march in all directions,” as it expands the Islamic state, or Caliphate, it has imposed over broad swathes of territory straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. The group said it has seized a total of 17 Iraqi cities, towns and targets – including the dam and a military base – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters, told the AP that clashes around the dam were ongoing and he didn’t know who currently had control over it.

The Sunni militant group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – once known as the Saddam Dam for ousted dictator Saddam Hussein – is located just north of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis as some 200,000 Iraqis joined the 1.5 million people already displaced from violence this year.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks. On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support for the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of the crisis.

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they can use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the dam waters and devastate the country all the way to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies is key to their attempts to build a state.

“It’s difficult to imagine that the dam will not be immediately contested – it’s real strategic property,” Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert with the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said of Thursday’s Mosul Dam seizure. “With the dam in its control, the Islamic State can use water as a coercive tool in creating dependency or as a deterrent threat hovering in the background. It could potentially flood Baghdad or cut off its supply.”

Earlier this year, the group’s fighters captured the smaller Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates River when they seized the nearby city of Fallujah. Repeatedly, the militants have used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces move in on the city.

For some Baghdad residents, the dam takeover represents a vulnerable artery leading into the capital. Zainab Mustafa, a Baghdad housewife, said she felt great anxiety over the dam takeover and had little faith in the central government’s ability to protect its citizens.

“I think the danger is real and this time we will not have a place to hide,” she said. “People here in Baghdad are now really afraid after the takeover of the Mosul Dam by the insurgents.”

All the while, the Islamic State’s ambitious push across northern Iraq continues. The militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The latest setbacks for peshmerga forces have caught many Iraqis off-guard as they are commonly regarded as a more capable force than the Iraqi military. On Wednesday, Kurdish fighters in the town of Sinjar handed out Kalashnikovs and set up a camp to train volunteers as part of efforts to battle militants in the area.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in Sinjar, including members of the minority Yazidi community, an ancient group with links to Zorastrianism. Faced with death threats, some 50,000 – half of them children, according to U.N. figures – ran into the nearby Sinjar mountains where they are out of reach of the militants, but are cut off from food and water.

Even camps for the displaced were coming under threat as the militant offensive progresses. Gunmen approached the edge of the heavily populated Khazer camp, which is protected by peshmerga forces, sending many fearful refugees running into the desert to escape.

Ayham Kamel, an Iraq analyst at Eurasia Group said the pershmerga capabilities were apparently overplayed and the Islamic militants are in a position to threaten the self-ruled Kurdish region.

The Kurdish fighters “were too bold with their initial statements that peshmerga is the only capable defensive force,” he said.

The French government called Thursday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the Islamic State advances and the militants’ “intolerable abuses.”

The Security Council condemned attacks on minorities in Iraq and said the attacks could constitute crimes against humanity. UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the current council president, told reporters that his country would circulate a draft resolution later Thursday on Iraq that would include a “message of condemnation’ and practical measures.

Meanwhile, the capital, which has been relatively isolated from the extreme violence to its north and west, was rocked by a series of bombings over the past two days that has killed at least 92 people.

In Kirkuk, a back-to-back car bomb attack near a Shiite religious hall-turned-shelter for displaced Shiites killed six people and wounded 40, said the city’s deputy police chief, Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef.

Saad Youssef, a Sunni teacher from Baghdad, said Iraqis are deeply concerned over the possible breakup of their country amid the current failure to stop the militants’ push.

“Now, we have (Islamic State) republic, Kurdish republic and Baghdad republic, and we could have more republics in the near future if the militants are not stooped,” he said.

—-

Associated Press writers Bram Janssen in Irbil, Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Thomas Adamson and Lori Hinnant in Paris, Trenton Daniel at the United Nations, Julie Pace and Robert Burns in Washington, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants from the Islamic State group seized Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam on Thursday, giving them control of enormous power and water resources and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

The fighting has trapped tens of thousands of members of religious minorities on a mountaintop. On President Barack Obama’s order, humanitarian supplies were airdropped for them, according to a Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity. But Obama was still weighing whether to combine that assistance with U.S. airstrikes, officials said Thursday night.

Airstrikes would mark a significant shift in the U.S. strategy in Iraq, where the military fully withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war. Officials said Obama could announce a decision as early as Thursday night. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name.

Thursday’s dam seizure was the latest in a string of victories by the Sunni radical group as it expands its hold in northern Iraq, driving back Kurdish forces, sending minority communities fleeing and unleashing bombings that have killed more than 90 people in the capital over the past two days.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam Thursday and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

The al-Qaida breakaway group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowing to continue “the march in all directions,” as it expands the Islamic state, or Caliphate, it has imposed over broad swathes of territory straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. The group said it has seized a total of 17 Iraqi cities, towns and targets – including the dam and a military base – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters, told the AP that clashes around the dam were ongoing and he didn’t know who currently had control over it.

The Sunni militant group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – once known as the Saddam Dam for ousted dictator Saddam Hussein – is located just north of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis as some 200,000 Iraqis joined the 1.5 million people already displaced from violence this year.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks. On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support for the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of the crisis.

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they can use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the dam waters and devastate the country all the way to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies is key to their attempts to build a state.

“It’s difficult to imagine that the dam will not be immediately contested – it’s real strategic property,” Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert with the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said of Thursday’s Mosul Dam seizure. “With the dam in its control, the Islamic State can use water as a coercive tool in creating dependency or as a deterrent threat hovering in the background. It could potentially flood Baghdad or cut off its supply.”

Earlier this year, the group’s fighters captured the smaller Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates River when they seized the nearby city of Fallujah. Repeatedly, the militants have used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces move in on the city.

For some Baghdad residents, the dam takeover represents a vulnerable artery leading into the capital. Zainab Mustafa, a Baghdad housewife, said she felt great anxiety over the dam takeover and had little faith in the central government’s ability to protect its citizens.

“I think the danger is real and this time we will not have a place to hide,” she said. “People here in Baghdad are now really afraid after the takeover of the Mosul Dam by the insurgents.”

All the while, the Islamic State’s ambitious push across northern Iraq continues. The militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The latest setbacks for peshmerga forces have caught many Iraqis off-guard as they are commonly regarded as a more capable force than the Iraqi military. On Wednesday, Kurdish fighters in the town of Sinjar handed out Kalashnikovs and set up a camp to train volunteers as part of efforts to battle militants in the area.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in Sinjar, including members of the minority Yazidi community, an ancient group with links to Zorastrianism. Faced with death threats, some 50,000 – half of them children, according to U.N. figures – ran into the nearby Sinjar mountains where they are out of reach of the militants, but are cut off from food and water.

Even camps for the displaced were coming under threat as the militant offensive progresses. Gunmen approached the edge of the heavily populated Khazer camp, which is protected by peshmerga forces, sending many fearful refugees running into the desert to escape.

Ayham Kamel, an Iraq analyst at Eurasia Group said the pershmerga capabilities were apparently overplayed and the Islamic militants are in a position to threaten the self-ruled Kurdish region.

The Kurdish fighters “were too bold with their initial statements that peshmerga is the only capable defensive force,” he said.

The French government called Thursday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the Islamic State advances and the militants’ “intolerable abuses.”

The Security Council condemned attacks on minorities in Iraq and said the attacks could constitute crimes against humanity. UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the current council president, told reporters that his country would circulate a draft resolution later Thursday on Iraq that would include a “message of condemnation’ and practical measures.

Meanwhile, the capital, which has been relatively isolated from the extreme violence to its north and west, was rocked by a series of bombings over the past two days that has killed at least 92 people.

In Kirkuk, a back-to-back car bomb attack near a Shiite religious hall-turned-shelter for displaced Shiites killed six people and wounded 40, said the city’s deputy police chief, Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef.

Saad Youssef, a Sunni teacher from Baghdad, said Iraqis are deeply concerned over the possible breakup of their country amid the current failure to stop the militants’ push.

“Now, we have (Islamic State) republic, Kurdish republic and Baghdad republic, and we could have more republics in the near future if the militants are not stooped,” he said.

—-

Associated Press writers Bram Janssen in Irbil, Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Thomas Adamson and Lori Hinnant in Paris, Trenton Daniel at the United Nations, Julie Pace and Robert Burns in Washington, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants from the Islamic State group seized Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam on Thursday, giving them control of enormous power and water resources and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

The fighting has trapped tens of thousands of members of religious minorities on a mountaintop. President Barack Obama approved airdrops of humanitarian supplies for them, but he was still weighing whether to combine that assistance with U.S. airstrikes, officials said Thursday night.

Airstrikes would mark a significant shift in the U.S. strategy in Iraq, where the military fully withdrew in late 2011 after nearly a decade of war. Officials said Obama could announce a decision as early as Thursday night. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name.

Thursday’s dam seizure was the latest in a string of victories by the Sunni radical group as it expands its hold in northern Iraq, driving back Kurdish forces, sending minority communities fleeing and unleashing bombings that have killed more than 90 people in the capital over the past two days.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam Thursday and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

The al-Qaida breakaway group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowing to continue “the march in all directions,” as it expands the Islamic state, or Caliphate, it has imposed over broad swathes of territory straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. The group said it has seized a total of 17 Iraqi cities, towns and targets – including the dam and a military base – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters, told the AP that clashes around the dam were ongoing and he didn’t know who currently had control over it.

The Sunni militant group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – once known as the Saddam Dam for ousted dictator Saddam Hussein – is located just north of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis as some 200,000 Iraqis joined the 1.5 million people already displaced from violence this year.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks. On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support for the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of the crisis.

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they can use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the dam waters and devastate the country all the way to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies is key to their attempts to build a state.

“It’s difficult to imagine that the dam will not be immediately contested – it’s real strategic property,” Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert with the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said of Thursday’s Mosul Dam seizure. “With the dam in its control, the Islamic State can use water as a coercive tool in creating dependency or as a deterrent threat hovering in the background. It could potentially flood Baghdad or cut off its supply.”

Earlier this year, the group’s fighters captured the smaller Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates River when they seized the nearby city of Fallujah. Repeatedly, the militants have used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces move in on the city.

For some Baghdad residents, the dam takeover represents a vulnerable artery leading into the capital. Zainab Mustafa, a Baghdad housewife, said she felt great anxiety over the dam takeover and had little faith in the central government’s ability to protect its citizens.

“I think the danger is real and this time we will not have a place to hide,” she said. “People here in Baghdad are now really afraid after the takeover of the Mosul Dam by the insurgents.”

All the while, the Islamic State’s ambitious push across northern Iraq continues. The militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The latest setbacks for peshmerga forces have caught many Iraqis off-guard as they are commonly regarded as a more capable force than the Iraqi military. On Wednesday, Kurdish fighters in the town of Sinjar handed out Kalashnikovs and set up a camp to train volunteers as part of efforts to battle militants in the area.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in Sinjar, including members of the minority Yazidi community, an ancient group with links to Zorastrianism. Faced with death threats, some 50,000 – half of them children, according to U.N. figures – ran into the nearby Sinjar mountains where they are out of reach of the militants, but are cut off from food and water.

Even camps for the displaced were coming under threat as the militant offensive progresses. Gunmen approached the edge of the heavily populated Khazer camp, which is protected by peshmerga forces, sending many fearful refugees running into the desert to escape.

Ayham Kamel, an Iraq analyst at Eurasia Group said the pershmerga capabilities were apparently overplayed and the Islamic militants are in a position to threaten the self-ruled Kurdish region.

The Kurdish fighters “were too bold with their initial statements that peshmerga is the only capable defensive force,” he said.

The French government called Thursday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the Islamic State advances and the militants’ “intolerable abuses.”

The Security Council condemned attacks on minorities in Iraq and said the attacks could constitute crimes against humanity. UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the current council president, told reporters that his country would circulate a draft resolution later Thursday on Iraq that would include a “message of condemnation’ and practical measures.

Meanwhile, the capital, which has been relatively isolated from the extreme violence to its north and west, was rocked by a series of bombings over the past two days that has killed at least 92 people.

In Kirkuk, a back-to-back car bomb attack near a Shiite religious hall-turned-shelter for displaced Shiites killed six people and wounded 40, said the city’s deputy police chief, Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef.

Saad Youssef, a Sunni teacher from Baghdad, said Iraqis are deeply concerned over the possible breakup of their country amid the current failure to stop the militants’ push.

“Now, we have (Islamic State) republic, Kurdish republic and Baghdad republic, and we could have more republics in the near future if the militants are not stooped,” he said.

—-

Associated Press writers Bram Janssen in Irbil, Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Thomas Adamson and Lori Hinnant in Paris, Trenton Daniel at the United Nations, Julie Pace and Robert Burns in Washington, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants from the Islamic State group seized Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam on Thursday, giving them control of enormous power and water resources and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

The fighting has trapped tens of thousands of members of religious minorities on a mountaintop, and the Obama administration was weighing possible airstrikes or airdrops of food and medicine to help them, according to U.S. defense officials and others familiar with the administration’s thinking. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Thursday’s dam seizure was the latest in a string of victories by the Sunni radical group as it expands its hold in northern Iraq, driving back Kurdish forces, sending minority communities fleeing and unleashing bombings that have killed more than 90 people in the capital over the past two days.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam Thursday and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

The al-Qaida breakaway group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowing to continue “the march in all directions,” as it expands the Islamic state, or Caliphate, it has imposed over broad swathes of territory straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. The group said it has seized a total of 17 Iraqi cities, towns and targets – including the dam and a military base – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters, told the AP that clashes around the dam were ongoing and he didn’t know who currently had control over it.

The Sunni militant group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – once known as the Saddam Dam for ousted dictator Saddam Hussein – is located just north of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis as some 200,000 Iraqis joined the 1.5 million people already displaced from violence this year.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks. On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support for the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of the crisis.

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they can use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the dam waters and devastate the country all the way to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies is key to their attempts to build a state.

“It’s difficult to imagine that the dam will not be immediately contested – it’s real strategic property,” Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert with the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said of Thursday’s Mosul Dam seizure. “With the dam in its control, the Islamic State can use water as a coercive tool in creating dependency or as a deterrent threat hovering in the background. It could potentially flood Baghdad or cut off its supply.”

Earlier this year, the group’s fighters captured the smaller Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates River when they seized the nearby city of Fallujah. Repeatedly, the militants have used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces move in on the city.

For some Baghdad residents, the dam takeover represents a vulnerable artery leading into the capital. Zainab Mustafa, a Baghdad housewife, said she felt great anxiety over the dam takeover and had little faith in the central government’s ability to protect its citizens.

“I think the danger is real and this time we will not have a place to hide,” she said. “People here in Baghdad are now really afraid after the takeover of the Mosul Dam by the insurgents.”

All the while, the Islamic State’s ambitious push across northern Iraq continues. The militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The latest setbacks for peshmerga forces have caught many Iraqis off-guard as they are commonly regarded as a more capable force than the Iraqi military. On Wednesday, Kurdish fighters in the town of Sinjar handed out Kalashnikovs and set up a camp to train volunteers as part of efforts to battle militants in the area.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in Sinjar, including members of the minority Yazidi community, an ancient group with links to Zorastrianism. Faced with death threats, some 50,000 – half of them children, according to U.N. figures – ran into the nearby Sinjar mountains where they are out of reach of the militants, but are cut off from food and water.

Even camps for the displaced were coming under threat as the militant offensive progresses. Gunmen approached the edge of the heavily populated Khazer camp, which is protected by peshmerga forces, sending many fearful refugees running into the desert to escape.

Ayham Kamel, an Iraq analyst at Eurasia Group said the pershmerga capabilities were apparently overplayed and the Islamic militants are in a position to threaten the self-ruled Kurdish region.

The Kurdish fighters “were too bold with their initial statements that peshmerga is the only capable defensive force,” he said.

The French government called Thursday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the Islamic State advances and the militants’ “intolerable abuses.”

The Security Council condemned attacks on minorities in Iraq and urged international support for the Iraqi government. The council said the attacks could constitute crimes against humanity and said those responsible should be held accountable.

Meanwhile, the capital, which has been relatively isolated from the extreme violence to its north and west, was rocked by a series of bombings over the past two days that has killed at least 92 people.

In Kirkuk, a back-to-back car bomb attack near a Shiite religious hall-turned-shelter for displaced Shiites killed six people and wounded 40, said the city’s deputy police chief, Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef.

Saad Youssef, a Sunni teacher from Baghdad, said Iraqis are deeply concerned over the possible breakup of their country amid the current failure to stop the militants’ push.

“Now, we have (Islamic State) republic, Kurdish republic and Baghdad republic, and we could have more republics in the near future if the militants are not stooped,” he said.

—-

Associated Press writers Bram Janssen in Irbil, Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Thomas Adamson and Lori Hinnant in Paris, Robert Burns in Washington, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants from the Islamic State group seized Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam on Thursday, giving them control of enormous power and water resources and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

The fighting has trapped tens of thousands of members of religious minorities on a mountaintop, and the Obama administration was weighing possible airstrikes or airdrops of food and medicine to help them, according to U.S. defense officials and others familiar with the administration’s thinking. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Thursday’s dam seizure was the latest in a string of victories by the Sunni radical group as it expands its hold in northern Iraq, driving back Kurdish forces, sending minority communities fleeing and unleashing bombings that have killed more than 90 people in the capital over the past two days.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam Thursday and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

The al-Qaida breakaway group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowing to continue “the march in all directions,” as it expands the Islamic state, or Caliphate, it has imposed over broad swathes of territory straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. The group said it has seized a total of 17 Iraqi cities, towns and targets – including the dam and a military base – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters, told the AP that clashes around the dam were ongoing and he didn’t know who currently had control over it.

The Sunni militant group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – once known as the Saddam Dam for ousted dictator Saddam Hussein – is located just north of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis as some 200,000 Iraqis joined the 1.5 million people already displaced from violence this year.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks. On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support for the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of the crisis.

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they can use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the dam waters and devastate the country all the way to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies is key to their attempts to build a state.

“It’s difficult to imagine that the dam will not be immediately contested – it’s real strategic property,” Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert with the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said of Thursday’s Mosul Dam seizure. “With the dam in its control, the Islamic State can use water as a coercive tool in creating dependency or as a deterrent threat hovering in the background. It could potentially flood Baghdad or cut off its supply.”

Earlier this year, the group’s fighters captured the smaller Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates River when they seized the nearby city of Fallujah. Repeatedly, the militants have used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces move in on the city.

For some Baghdad residents, the dam takeover represents a vulnerable artery leading into the capital. Zainab Mustafa, a Baghdad housewife, said she felt great anxiety over the dam takeover and had little faith in the central government’s ability to protect its citizens.

“I think the danger is real and this time we will not have a place to hide,” she said. “People here in Baghdad are now really afraid after the takeover of the Mosul Dam by the insurgents.”

All the while, the Islamic State’s ambitious push across northern Iraq continues. The militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The latest setbacks for peshmerga forces have caught many Iraqis off-guard as they are commonly regarded as a more capable force than the Iraqi military. On Wednesday, Kurdish fighters in the town of Sinjar handed out Kalashnikovs and set up a camp to train volunteers as part of efforts to battle militants in the area.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in Sinjar, including members of the minority Yazidi community, an ancient group with links to Zorastrianism. Faced with death threats, some 50,000 – half of them children, according to U.N. figures – ran into the nearby Sinjar mountains where they are out of reach of the militants, but are cut off from food and water.

Even camps for the displaced were coming under threat as the militant offensive progresses. Gunmen approached the edge of the heavily populated Khazer camp, which is protected by peshmerga forces, sending many fearful refugees running into the desert to escape.

Ayham Kamel, an Iraq analyst at Eurasia Group said the pershmerga capabilities were apparently overplayed and the Islamic militants are in a position to threaten the self-ruled Kurdish region.

The Kurdish fighters “were too bold with their initial statements that peshmerga is the only capable defensive force,” he said.

The French government called Thursday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the Islamic State advances and the militants’ “intolerable abuses.”

Meanwhile, the capital, which has been relatively isolated from the extreme violence to its north and west, was rocked by a series of bombings over the past two days that has killed at least 92 people.

In Kirkuk, a back-to-back car bomb attack near a Shiite religious hall-turned-shelter for displaced Shiites killed six people and wounded 40, said the city’s deputy police chief, Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef.

Saad Youssef, a Sunni teacher from Baghdad, said Iraqis are deeply concerned over the possible breakup of their country amid the current failure to stop the militants’ push.

“Now, we have (Islamic State) republic, Kurdish republic and Baghdad republic, and we could have more republics in the near future if the militants are not stooped,” he said.

—-

Associated Press writers Bram Janssen in Irbil, Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Thomas Adamson and Lori Hinnant in Paris, Robert Burns in Washington, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Militants from the Islamic State group seized Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam on Thursday, giving them control of enormous power and water resources and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

The fighting has trapped tens of thousands of members of religious minorities on a mountaintop, and the Obama administration was weighing possible airstrikes or airdrops of food and medicine to help them, according to U.S. defense officials and others familiar with the administration’s thinking. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Thursday’s dam seizure was the latest in a string of victories by the Sunni radical group as it expands its hold in northern Iraq, driving back Kurdish forces, sending minority communities fleeing and unleashing bombings that have killed more than 90 people in the capital over the past two days.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam Thursday and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

The al-Qaida breakaway group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowing to continue “the march in all directions,” as it expands the Islamic state, or Caliphate, it has imposed over broad swathes of territory straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. The group said it has seized a total of 17 Iraqi cities, towns and targets – including the dam and a military base – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters, told the AP that clashes around the dam were ongoing and he didn’t know who currently had control over it.

The Sunni militant group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – once known as the Saddam Dam for ousted dictator Saddam Hussein – is located just north of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis as some 200,000 Iraqis joined the 1.5 million people already displaced from violence this year.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks. On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support for the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of the crisis.

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they can use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the dam waters and devastate the country all the way to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies is key to their attempts to build a state.

“It’s difficult to imagine that the dam will not be immediately contested – it’s real strategic property,” Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert with the Washington-based Atlantic Council, said of Thursday’s Mosul Dam seizure. “With the dam in its control, the Islamic State can use water as a coercive tool in creating dependency or as a deterrent threat hovering in the background. It could potentially flood Baghdad or cut off its supply.”

Earlier this year, the group’s fighters captured the smaller Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates River when they seized the nearby city of Fallujah. Repeatedly, the militants have used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces move in on the city.

For some Baghdad residents, the dam takeover represents a vulnerable artery leading into the capital. Zainab Mustafa, a Baghdad housewife, said she felt great anxiety over the dam takeover and had little faith in the central government’s ability to protect its citizens.

“I think the danger is real and this time we will not have a place to hide,” she said. “People here in Baghdad are now really afraid after the takeover of the Mosul Dam by the insurgents.”

All the while, the Islamic State’s ambitious push across northern Iraq continues. The militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The latest setbacks for peshmerga forces have caught many Iraqis off-guard as they are commonly regarded as a more capable force than the Iraqi military. On Wednesday, Kurdish fighters in the town of Sinjar handed out Kalashnikovs and set up a camp to train volunteers as part of efforts to battle militants in the area.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in Sinjar, including members of the minority Yazidi community, an ancient group with links to Zorastrianism. Faced with death threats, some 50,000 – half of them children, according to U.N. figures – ran into the nearby Sinjar mountains where they are out of reach of the militants, but are cut off from food and water.

Even camps for the displaced were coming under threat as the militant offensive progresses. Gunmen approached the edge of the heavily populated Khazer camp, which is protected by peshmerga forces, sending many fearful refugees running into the desert to escape.

Ayham Kamel, an Iraq analyst at Eurasia Group said the pershmerga capabilities were apparently overplayed and the Islamic militants are in a position to threaten the self-ruled Kurdish region.

The Kurdish fighters “were too bold with their initial statements that peshmerga is the only capable defensive force,” he said.

The French government called Thursday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the Islamic State advances and the militants’ “intolerable abuses.”

Meanwhile, the capital, which has been relatively isolated from the extreme violence to its north and west, was rocked by a series of bombings over the past two days that has killed at least 92 people.

In Kirkuk, a back-to-back car bomb attack near a Shiite religious hall-turned-shelter for displaced Shiites killed six people and wounded 40, said the city’s deputy police chief, Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef.

Saad Youssef, a Sunni teacher from Baghdad, said Iraqis are deeply concerned over the possible breakup of their country amid the current failure to stop the militants’ push.

“Now, we have (Islamic State) republic, Kurdish republic and Baghdad republic, and we could have more republics in the near future if the militants are not stooped,” he said.

—-

Associated Press writers Bram Janssen in Irbil, Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Thomas Adamson and Lori Hinnant in Paris, Robert Burns in Washington, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Sunni militants from the Islamic State group seized Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam on Thursday, giving them control of enormous power and water resources and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

It was the latest in a string of victories by the Sunni radical group as it expands its hold in northern Iraq, driving back Kurdish forces, sending minority communities fleeing and unleashing bombings that have killed more than 90 in the capital over the past two days.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to safety concerns.

The al-Qaida breakaway group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowing to continue “the march in all directions,” as it expands the Islamic state, or Caliphate, it has imposed over broad swathes of territory straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. The group said it has seized a total of 17 Iraqi cities, towns and targets – including the dam and a military base – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Kurdish fighters, told the AP that clashes around the dam were ongoing and he didn’t know who currently had control over it.

The Sunni militant group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – once known as the Saddam Dam for ousted dictator Saddam Hussein – is located just north of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants, exacerbating the country’s humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of Iraqis joined the 1.5 million people already internally displaced from violence this year.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks. On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support for the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of the crisis.

The Obama administration is also weighing possible airstrikes, as well as an urgent response to help trapped religious minorities in Iraq, with one option being delivery of humanitarian aid, according to U.S. defense officials and others familiar with the administration’s thinking. They spoke on conditon of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

“It’s difficult to imagine that the dam will not be immediately contested – it’s real strategic property,” said Ramzy Mardini, an Iraq expert with the Washington-based Atlantic Council. “With the dam in its control, the Islamic State can use water as a coercive tool in creating dependency or as a deterrent threat hovering in the background. It could potentially flood Baghdad or cut off its supply.”

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they can use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the dam waters and devastate the country all the way to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies is key to their attempts to build a state.

Earlier this year, the group’s fighters captured the smaller Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates River when they seized the nearby city of Fallujah. Repeatedly, the militants have used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces move in on the city.

For some Baghdad residents, the dam takeover represents a vulnerable artery leading into the capital. Zainab Mustafa, a Baghdad housewife, said she felt great anxiety over the dam takeover and had little faith in the central government’s ability to protect its citizens.

“I think the danger is real and this time we will not have a place to hide,” she said. “People here in Baghdad are now really afraid after the takeover of the Mosul Dam by the insurgents.”

All the while, the Islamic State’s ambitious push across northern Iraq continues. The militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The latest setbacks for peshmerga forces have caught many Iraqis off-guard as they are commonly regarded as a more capable force than the Iraqi military. On Wednesday, Kurdish fighters in the town of Sinjar handed out Kalashnikovs and set up a camp to train volunteers as part of efforts to battle militants in the area.

Tens of thousands of people fled their homes in Sinjar, including members of the minority Yazidi community, an ancient group with links to Zorastrianism. Thousands ran into the nearby Sinjar mountains where they are out of reach of the militants – but were also cut off from water and food supplies.

Now, even camps for the displaced are coming under threat as the militant offensive progresses. Gunmen approached the edge of the heavily populated Khazer camp, which is protected by peshmerga forces, sending many fearful refugees running into the desert to escape.

Ayham Kamel, an Iraq analyst at Eurasia Group said the pershmerga capabilities were apparently overplayed and the Islamic militants are in a position to threaten the self-ruled Kurdish region.

The Kurdish fighters “were too bold with their initial statements that peshmerga is the only capable defensive force,” he said.

The French government called Thursday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to address the Islamic State advances and the militants’ “intolerable abuses.”

Meanwhile, the capital, which has been relatively isolated from the extreme violence to its north and west, was rocked by a series of bombings over the past two days that has killed at least 92 people.

In Kirkuk, a back-to-back car bomb attack near a Shiite religious hall-turned-shelter for displaced Shiites killed six people and wounded 40, said the city’s deputy police chief, Maj. Gen. Torhan Abdul-Rahman Youssef.

Saad Youssef, a Sunni teacher from Baghdad, said Iraqis are deeply concerned over the possible breakup of their country amid the current failure to stop the militants’ push.

“Now, we have (Islamic State) republic, Kurdish republic and Baghdad republic, and we could have more republics in the near future if the militants are not stooped,” he said.

—-

Associated Press writers Bram Janssen in Irbil, Sinan Salaheddin and Murtada Faraj in Baghdad, Thomas Adamson and Lori Hinnant in Paris, Robert Burns in Washington, and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Sunni militants from the Islamic State group on Thursday seized Iraq’s largest dam, placing them in control of enormous power and water resources and access to the river that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke anonymously for safety concerns.

The group’s advances came as the capital has been shaken by a string of car bombs that has claimed more than 80 lives in the last two days.

The Islamic State group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming that they had taken control of the dam and vowed to continue “the march in all directions,” adding that it will not “give up the great Caliphate project.” The group added that it has seized a total of 17 cities, towns and targets – including the dam – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Peshmerga, told The Associated Press that clashes around the dam are ongoing and he does not know who is in control at this point in time.

The al-Qaida-breakaway group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – or Saddam Dam as it was once known – is located north of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants. It’s not the only dam they are targeting.

Iraq’s second largest dam, the Haditha Dam in the western Anbar province, has also been at risk of takeover but remains in the hands of the Iraqi military.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks.

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they could use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the waters of the dam and devastate the country all the way down to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies will be key to their attempts to build a state.

Late Wednesday, militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The U.S. officials said the administration is weighing an urgent response to help the thousands of trapped religious minorities fleeing their homes, possibly with humanitarian aid.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support to the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of this crisis.

The French government on Thursday called for an emergency meeting by the United Nations Security Council to address the advances of the Islamic State militants and “the intolerable abuses committed,” and asked that the international community mobilizes itself against the threat.

Even as Sunni militants have been taking control of territory in the north and west of the country, Baghdad has been increasingly targeted by car bombs, with a string of explosions killing at least 83 people in the last two days.

Iraqi officials said in two separate incidents on Thursday, drivers rammed cars packed with explosives into police checkpoints in the northern, predominantly Shiite district of Kazimiyah killing a total of 32 people, most of them civilians, and wounding dozens.

Medical officials confirmed the toll. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

A roadside bomb also went off west of Baghdad in the suburb of Abu Ghraib, killing two soldiers.

—-

Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Sunni militants from the Islamic State group on Thursday seized Iraq’s largest dam, placing them in control of enormous power and water resources and access to the river that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke anonymously for safety concerns.

The group’s advances came as the capital has been shaken by a string of car bombs that has claimed more than 80 lives in the last two days.

The Islamic State group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming that they had taken control of the dam and vowed to continue “the march in all directions,” adding that it will not “give up the great Caliphate project.” The group added that it has seized a total of 17 cities, towns and targets – including the dam – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Peshmerga, told The Associated Press that clashes around the dam are ongoing and he does not know who is in control at this point in time.

The al-Qaida-breakaway group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – or Saddam Dam as it was once known – is located north of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants. It’s not the only dam they are targeting.

Iraq’s second largest dam, the Haditha Dam in the western Anbar province, has also been at risk of takeover but remains in the hands of the Iraqi military.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks.

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they could use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the waters of the dam and devastate the country all the way down to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies will be key to their attempts to build a state.

Late Wednesday, militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The U.S. officials said the administration is weighing an urgent response to help the thousands of trapped religious minorities fleeing their homes, possibly with humanitarian aid.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support to the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of this crisis.

The French government on Thursday called for an emergency meeting by the United Nations Security Council to address the advances of the Islamic State militants and “the intolerable abuses committed,” and asked that the international community mobilizes itself against the threat.

Even as Sunni militants have been taking control of territory in the north and west of the country, Baghdad has been increasingly targeted by car bombs, with a string of explosions killing at least 83 people in the last two days.

Iraqi officials said in two separate incidents on Thursday, drivers rammed cars packed with explosives into police checkpoints in the northern, predominantly Shiite district of Kazimiyah killing a total of 32 people, most of them civilians, and wounding dozens.

Medical officials confirmed the toll. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

A roadside bomb also went off west of Baghdad in the suburb of Abu Ghraib, killing two soldiers.

—-

Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Iraqi militants seize country’s largest dam

KDWN

BAGHDAD (AP) — Sunni militants from the Islamic State group on Thursday seized Iraq’s largest dam, placing them in control of enormous power and water resources and access to the river that runs through the heart of Baghdad.

After a week of attempts, the radical Islamist gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told The Associated Press. They spoke anonymously for safety concerns.

The group’s advances came as the capital has been shaken by a string of car bombs that has claimed more than 80 lives in the last two days.

The Islamic State group posted a statement online Thursday, confirming that they had taken control of the dam and vowed to continue “the march in all directions,” adding that it will not “give up the great Caliphate project.” The group added that it has seized a total of 17 cities, towns and targets – including the dam – over the past five days. The statement could not be verified but it was posted on a site frequently used by the group.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the Peshmerga, told The Associated Press that clashes around the dam are ongoing and he does not know who is in control at this point in time.

The al-Qaida-breakaway group has established its idea of an Islamic state in the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, imposing its harsh interpretation of Islamic law. Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the Islamic State militants and its Sunni allies with little apparent success.

The Mosul Dam – or Saddam Dam as it was once known – is located north of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants. It’s not the only dam they are targeting.

Iraq’s second largest dam, the Haditha Dam in the western Anbar province, has also been at risk of takeover but remains in the hands of the Iraqi military.

The Kurdish fighters, known as the peshmerga, had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defense has waned in recent weeks.

The seizing of dams and reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they could use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.

There are also fears the militants could release the waters of the dam and devastate the country all the way down to the capital Baghdad, though maintaining the dam’s power and water supplies will be key to their attempts to build a state.

Late Wednesday, militants overran a cluster of predominantly Christian villages alongside the country’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, sending tens of thousands of civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, several priests in northern Iraq said Thursday. The capture of Qaraqoush, Iraq’s biggest Christian village, and at least four other nearby hamlets, brings the Islamic State to the very edge of the Iraqi Kurdish territory and its regional capital, Irbil.

The U.S. officials said the administration is weighing an urgent response to help the thousands of trapped religious minorities fleeing their homes, possibly with humanitarian aid.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered the Iraqi air force to provide aerial support to the Kurds, in a rare show of cooperation between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government that underscored the serious nature of this crisis.

The French government on Thursday called for an emergency meeting by the United Nations Security Council to address the advances of the Islamic State militants and “the intolerable abuses committed,” and asked that the international community mobilizes itself against the threat.

Even as Sunni militants have been taking control of territory in the north and west of the country, Baghdad has been increasingly targeted by car bombs, with a string of explosions killing at least 83 people in the last two days.

Iraqi officials said in two separate incidents on Thursday, drivers rammed cars packed with explosives into police checkpoints in the northern, predominantly Shiite district of Kazimiyah killing a total of 32 people, most of them civilians, and wounding dozens.

Medical officials confirmed the toll. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information.

A roadside bomb also went off west of Baghdad in the suburb of Abu Ghraib, killing two soldiers.

—-

Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.