The taking of the Mosul Dam on the Tigris River from ISIS by Kurdish Peshmerga forces backed by US air power highlights the strategic nature of water in the multi-sided Iraq conflict. Even before ISIS seized the giant dam in early August, the militants were taking advantage of the country's drought, cutting off the flow of water from the dam to Baghdad through territory under their control. "ISIS is starting to use dams as weapon of war," wrote meteorologist Eric Holthaus, Slate's Future Tense blog. "So they've made [it] high on their list to take over those dams and control the water downstream." July saw battles between ISIS militants and government troops over the Haditha Dam and its hydroelectric works on the Euphrates. The fall of the complex to ISIS would have given the rebels control over Baghdad's electricity source. But the most grave danger has not passed: ongoing fighting and air-strikes in the area of the Mosul Dam could lead to the dam being breached, which would flood Mosul and other downstream cities, possibly even affecting Baghdad.
ISIS fighters shot and beheaded some 700 members of the Shueitat tribe in eastern Syria over the past two weeks, crushing a local uprising against the jihadi forces, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports. Tribesmen expelled ISIS fighters from the villages of Kishkiyeh, Abu Hamam and Granij in Deir el-Zour governorate earlier this month before the jihadists launched their counter-offensive. "They considered all members of the Shueitat tribe apostates because they rose against them," said a Turkey-based activist who is from the region and in touch with residents there. "Some men were taken out in the fields and beheaded while others were shot in the head." Syrian warplanes are bombing ISIS positions in an attempt to halt the militants' advance on an army base in the area. (AP, Aug. 18)
A Yazidi militia group has entered the fight against ISIS, clashing with militants near Sinjar. Khudida Kicho, a member of the Yazidi militia, said in a press conference in Erbil: "In the Kahbel area near Sinjar our fighters were able to attack IS militants and kill 24 of them. In the clashes three of our fighters were killed as well, but we will continue to fight terrorists until the end." (BasNews) Kurdish Peshmerga leaders meanwhile said their forces have seized full control of the Mosul Dam, in coordination with US air-strikes on ISIS positions in the area. (IraqiNews.com) But in Baghdad, the general command of Iraq's armed forces warned against foreign planes breaching the nation's airspace and arming "a certain Iraqi faction"—a clear reference to Western arming of the Peshmerga. "We welcome international support for Iraq in its war against terrorism," read the statement. "But Iraq's territorial sovereignty must be respected." (Rudaw, IraqiNews.com)
A survivor who managed to escape by feigning death described a general massacre at the ISIS-occupied Yazidi village of Kojo 20 kilometers south of Sinjar. The village was surrounded by ISIS fighters 12 days ago, with residents ordered to convert on pain of death. On Aug. 15, the fighters moved in, and rounded up the villagers, separating the men from the women and children. The men were lined up and machine-gunned. Up to 80 are believed to have been killed. (BasNews, AP, Reuters) ISIS forces have reportedly brought Sunni Arabs into the cleansed Yazidi town of Sinjar in response to US air-strikes on nearby Arab villages. Yazidi homes are being given to the Arab families. (BasNews) The Kurdistan Regional Government's Peshmerga forces have joined with PKK-aligned Kurdish militias to form the Sinjar Defense Units, to take back the town. (Rojava Report) The KRG's Peshmerga Ministry issued a statement naming several villages where "IS militants" suffered "heavy losses" under US bombardment. Peshmerga forces backed by US air-strikes have also opened an operation aimed at recovering the ISIS-held Mosul Dam. (BasNews, Rudaw)
Defense Department officials said Aug. 13 that US air-strikes and Kurdish forces have broken the ISIS siege of Mount Sinjar, allowing thousands of the Yazidis trapped there to escape. An initial report from some dozen Marines and Special Operations troops who arrived the previous day said that "the situation is much more manageable," a Defense official told the New York Times. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking to reporters at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said it is "far less likely now" that the US will undertake a rescue mission. A White House official said: "The president's decisive decisions [sic] in the immediate wake of the crisis kept people alive and broke the siege of the mountain." But Yazidi leaders and relief workers dispute the claim that the siege has been broken, asserting that tens of thousands of Yazidis remain on the mountain in desperate conditions. Speaking from her hospital bed in Istanbul, Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of Iraq's parliament who was injured in a helicopter crash on the mountain, said that up to 80,000 remain stranded there. "It's better now than it had been, but it's just not true that all of them are safe—they are not," Dakhil said. "Especially on the south side of the mountain, the situation is very terrible. There are still people who are not getting any aid." (NYT, NYT, Ahram, The Guardian)
Another 130 US troops arrived in northern Iraq on Aug. 12 on what the Pentagon described as a temporary mission to assess the scope of the humanitarian crisis facing thousands of displaced civilians trapped on Mount Sinjar. Kurdish sources said four US Osprey aircraft landed in Erbil, where the military advisors disembarked and were greeted by officials of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). On a visit to California's Camp Pendleton, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emphasized: "This is not a combat boots on the ground kind of operation. We're not going back into Iraq in any of the same combat mission dimensions that we once were in in Iraq." (AP, Rudaw)
Some 20,000 Yazidis have managed to flee Mount Sinjar after Peshmerga forces opened a corridor for them into Syrian territory, and some have since crossed back into Kurdish-controlled Iraq. Many are making their way to the Kurdish capital of Erbil, where the 1.5 million population has grown by around 185,000 since the fall of Mosul to ISIS. Peshmerga leaders are said to be meeting with US and British special forces to try to devise an escape route for up to 150,000 who have been displaced from the Sinjar area, in Nineveh governorate. A British C130 cargo plane had to abort an aid drop on Mount Sinjar because desperate Yazidis crowded under the aicraft, making it impossible to parachute bundles down without risking injury to those below. (NY Daily News, LAT, Daily Mail) Witnesses told the independent Kurdish news agency Rudaw that more than 500 Yazidi girls and women were abducted by ISIS militants after the seizure of Sinjar town. One displaced Yazidi said he had seen two ISIS vehicles "full of women." He told Rudaw: "There were seven women in the back of the truck—five younger women and two who appeared to be above 50. They killed the two older women on the spot in the street and took with them the other women." (Rudaw)
Kurdish Peshmerga forces claimed Aug. 10 to have liberated the towns of Makhmur and Gwer, some 80 kilometers south of Erbil, and surrounding areas that had been occupied by ISIS. (BasNews) ISIS militants have blown up the bridge on the Khazir River between Erbil and Mosul to slow Peshmerga progress. (BasNews) US air-strikes destroyed several ISIS armed vehicles outside Erbil, while Halgord Hikmat of the Kurdistan Region's Peshmerga Ministry said: "The US airstrikes against IS positions are done with the coordination of Peshmerga forces." He added that there are a number of US military advisers working with Peshmerga forces on the ground. (AP, BasNews) Iraqi parliamentarians from Mosul held a press conference in Baghdad to praise the Peshmerga offensive, while berating the central government for its failure to respond to the crisis. "The Iraqi government has been silent since the first day regarding the situation in Mosul and only watches the developments," said the angry MPs. (BasNews)