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Obama Says Iraq's Mosul Dam Retaken, Militants Deny It

  • RFE/RL

Islamic State militants captured the strategically important Mosul dam hydroelectric power station on August 7. (file photo)

Islamic State militants captured the strategically important Mosul dam hydroelectric power station on August 7. (file photo)

U.S. President Barack Obama says Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with American support, have recaptured the strategically important Mosul dam from Islamist militants.

Speaking at the White House on August 18, Obama described the development as "a major step forward."

He said that if the dam on the Tigris River had been breached, it could have had catastrophic consequences and endangered American embassy personnel in Baghdad.

Obama said Islamic State militants represent a threat to all Iraqis and that Iraqis must come together to resist them.

Obama added that the United States' interests lay in seeing that a "savage group" like IS is contained, because "ultimately" it could threaten the country.

That’s why, the president said, the United States has embarked on a long-term mission to defeat IS fighters in Iraq.

He said the United States is urgently providing arms and assistance to Iraqi security forces as well as Kurdish fighters as they seek to reverse the Islamic State fighters' recent gains.

Earlier on August 18, the Iraqi Army announced that security forces and Kurdish peshmerga fighters had driven Islamic State (IS) militants away from the country’s largest hydroelectric power station.

Iraqi military spokesman Lieutenant-General Qasim Atta said the forces were backed by air strikes.

Independent verification of the claim was not immediately possible.

In an online statement, the IS denied losing control of the dam, dismissing the government claim as "mere propaganda war."

IS militants captured the dam on August 7.

The Islamic State, a militant group that seeks hard-line rule under an Islamic caliphate, has seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, displacing hundreds of thousands.

More than 200,000 people, mostly Yazidi and Christian religious minorities, have fled their homes since the group's latest offensive in August in northern Iraq.

The militant group's recent advances in northern Iraq have prompted the United States to launch air strikes in the Middle Eastern nation for the first time since its withdrawal 2011.

The U.S. Central Command said in a statement that U.S. warplanes and drones carried out 15 air strikes on August 18 near the dam.

The statement said the air strikes destroyed nine IS fighting positions and a checkpoint, six armed trucks, an armored vehicle, a mobile antiaircraft gun, and a stretch of ground booby-trapped with improvised explosive devices.

The statement said that, since August 8, a total of 68 airstrikes have been conducted in Iraq -- 35 of them in support of Iraqi forces near the dam.

Central Command said the strikes had been conducted under the authority of U.S. President Barack Obama's order to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces in the fight against IS militants and to protect U.S. personnel and facilities.

The peshmerga started a large-scale ground offensive on August 17 and regained some villages near the rebel-held northern city of Mosul.

The Islamic militant group has reportedly warned the United States it will attack Americans "in any place" if the raids hit its militants.

Reuters news agency reported that a video, which shows a photograph of an American who was beheaded during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, featured a statement which said in English "we will drown all of you in blood."

In neighboring Syria, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad attacked the Islamic State's stronghold of Raqqa with more than two dozen air strikes on August 17.

In related news, Pope Francis said on August 18 that the international community would be justified in stopping Islamist militants in Iraq.

The pope made his comments to reporters aboard a plane returning from a trip to South Korea.

Francis was asked if he approved of U.S. strikes against the Islamic State insurgents in Iraq.

He said, "In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression I can only say that it is legitimate to stop the unjust aggressor."

But the pope added that the United Nations was the proper forum to consider whether there was unjust aggression and how to stop it.

He said, "One single nation cannot judge unjust aggressor is to be stopped."

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP