BAGHDAD: Islamic State insurgents who seized Iraq’s biggest dam in a offensive that has caused international consternation have brought in engineers for repairs, witnesses said yesterday, as nervous Kurds stocked up on arms to defend their enclave nearby.
The jihadi Islamists have captured wide swathes of northern Iraq since June, executing non-Sunni Muslim captives, displacing tens of thousands of people and drawing the first US air strikes in the region since Washington withdrew troops in 2011.
After routing Kurdish forces earlier this week, Islamic State militants are just 30 minutes’ drive from Arbil, the Kurdish regional capital which up to now has been spared the sectarian bloodshed that has scarred other parts of Iraq for a decade.
Employees of foreign oil firms in Arbil were flying out. Kurds were snapping up AK-47 assault rifles in arms markets for fear of imminent attack, although these had been ineffective against Islamic State fighters with superior firepower.
Given the Islamic State threat, a source in the Kurdistan Regional Government said it had received extra supplies of heavy weaponry from the Baghdad federal government “and other governments” in the past few days, but declined to elaborate.
An engineer at Mosul dam told Reuters that Islamic State fighters had brought in engineers to repair an emergency power line to the city, Iraq’s biggest in the north, that had been cut off four days ago, causing power outages and water shortages.
“They are gathering people to work at the dam,” he said.
A dam administrator said that militants were putting up the trademark Islamic State black flags and patrolling with flatbed trucks mounted with machineguns. The Islamic State, comprised mainly of Arabs and foreign fighters who want to reshape the map of the Middle East, pose the biggest threat to Iraq, a major oil exporter, since Saddam Hussein was toppled by a US-led invasion in 2003. The Sunni militants, who have beheaded and crucified captives in their drive to eradicate unbelievers, first arrived in northern Iraq in June from Syria where they have captured wide tracts of territory in that country’s
civil war. Almost unopposed by US-trained Iraqi government forces who fled by the thousands, the insurgents swept through the region and have threatened to march on Baghdad.