ISIS is in a position to threaten the entirety of Iraq after seizing the country’s largest hydroelectric dam from the Kurds, Alan Duke and Hamdi Alkhshali reported for CNN citing a Kurdish Peshmerga commander.
The Mosul Dam had been under the protection of Kurdish fighters until August 3, when an ISIS advance pushed the Kurds out of border cities and the control of the dam after 24 hours of fighting.
The Kurds had warned for weeks that they were stretched thin along their 650-mile long border with Iraq’s ISIS-controlled region.
The seizing of the Mosul Dam is yet another destabilizing factor in Iraq’s already-fragile state of play.
“If you control the Mosul Dam, you can threaten just about everybody,” Daniel Pipes, the president of the Middle East Forum, told CNN. Flooding from the dam could sow chaos from Mosul all the way to Baghdad, more than 280 miles away.
“If the dam fails,” Keith Johnson of Foreign Policy noted, “scientists say Mosul could be completely flooded within hours and a 15-foot wall of water could crash into Baghdad.”
The Mosul Dam could fail even without ISIS directing an attack against the structure.
The dam is inherently unstable, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. If ISIS disrupts maintenance of the dam its structure could deteriorate and the dam could be breached out of sheer neglect.
In a worst-case scenario, a breach could flood Baghdad and wipe out 250 square kilometers of farmland.
ISIS has also been moving towards the Haditha Dam in western Iraq. This dam’s destruction would pose serious consequences, as the it provides both hydroelectric power for Baghdad and irrigation for downstream farms. The Haditha Dam holds back a large reservoir, Lake Qadisiyah, which could flow downstream and cause massive flooding if the dam were ever breached.
ISIS has a history of attacking water sources and dams in Iraq. From January to April, ISIS controlled the Fallujah Dam, and used its newfound power to affect drought in southern Iraq while flooding the areas around the city. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad estimated that these actions caused a water shortage for hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
On April 17, gunmen linked to ISIS bombed an oil pipeline, causing spills which contaminated the water supply of west Baghdad.
The destruction of either dam would cause the most damage to southern Iraq, which is predominantly Shiite. ISIS, a Sunni organisation, views the Shiites as heretics and is intent upon overthrowing the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. Attacking Iraq’s major dams would move them closer to this grisly end goal.
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