BAGHDAD — Militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria seized Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam Thursday, giving them control of enormous power and water resources, and leverage over the Tigris River that runs through the heart of Baghdad.
After a week of attempts, gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living near the dam told the Associated Press.
ISIS 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.
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 — as the group's fighters have done with the smaller Fallujah Dam — 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 the Mosul Dam seizure.