Extremists fighters from the al Qaeda offshoot the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) are now able to control, or at least seriously damage, Iraq’s water supply.
Earlier today, fighters from ISIS, which was actually expelled from Al Qaeda’s global network in February, captured Mosul, the capital of northern Iraq and the country’s second largest city. The entirety of the city is reported to be in ISIS’s hands since government troops and police officers abandoned their posts before the offensive.
ISIS’s control of Mosul places it in a prime position to launch an attack against the Mosul Dam, the largest in the country. The dam impedes the Tigris River, which, along with the Euphrates River, is the main source of water for the vast majority of Iraq’s 32 million citizens.
ISIS has previously shown a desire to take control of dams as a means of inflicting strategic damage to southern and central Iraq.
In January 2014, ISIS took control of the Fallujah Dam along the Euphrates. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) was not able to retake control of the dam until April.
During their months in control of the dam, ISIS managed to block the Euphrates, flooding the area around Fallujah while cutting off water to the southern and central districts of Iraq.
Mohammad Al-Hayis, the head of the Sons of Iraq Council, a Sunni tribal movement opposed to al Qaeda, told Asharq Al-Awsat that ISIS’ control of the Fallujah dam had:
… two objectives: on the one hand, they want to drown the areas surrounding Fallujah, but the sudden attack by the army foiled that plan; on the other hand, they want to cut off water supply to the central and southern governates in order to give their war a sectarian dimension.
The majority of central and southern Iraq is Shia, while ISIS is a radical Sunni group. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad estimated that ISIS’ actions in Fallujah caused a water shortage for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
ISIS has also previously rendered water sources undrinkable. On April 17, gunmen detonated IEDs on a oil pipeline causing a massive spill which contaminated the western half of Baghdad’s water supply.
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