Middle East Updates / Kurdish Forces Retake Iraq's Largest Dam

IAEA chief: Iran visit has been short, but useful; Pakistani opposition politician calls trying to force government to resign.

Mosul dam in Iraq.
This Oct. 31, 2007 file photo, shows a general view of the dam in Mosul, 360 kilometers (225 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Iraq. AP

8:48 P.M. Kurdish peshmerga forces on Sunday retook control of Iraq's largest dam from Islamic State militants, officials told AFP. A Kurdish official added, however, that fighting was still taking place nearby. The recapture of the Mosul dam marks the biggest Kurdish victory over the Islamic State group so far. (Haaretz)

5:14 P.M. Kurdish forces took over parts of Iraq's largest dam on Sunday less than two weeks after it was captured by the Islamic State extremist group, Kurdish security officials said, as U.S. and Iraqi planes aided their advance by bombing militant targets near the facility.

The U.S. began targeting Islamic State fighters with airstrikes a little over a week ago, allowing Kurdish forces to fend off an advance on their regional capital Irbil and to help tens of thousands of members of religious minorities escape the extremists' onslaught.

Recapturing the dam would be a significant victory against the Islamic State group, which has seized vast swaths of northern and western Iraq and northeastern Syria. The dam on the Tigris supplies electricity and water for irrigation to a large part of the country.

The Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, launched the operation early Sunday to retake the Mosul Dam, Gen. Tawfik Desty, a Kurdish commander, told The Associated Press. He said his forces now control the eastern part of the dam and that fighting is still underway.

Another commander said Kurdish forces later were hindered by roadside bombs planted by retreating Islamic State fighters. He added that peshmerga forces had taken the nearby town of Tel Kasouf by Sunday morning.

"They are advancing slowly. The obstacles are the roadside bombs. It's a Daash tactic," he said, referring to the Islamic State by an Arabic acronym. The commander spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military regulations.

"They have reached inside the dam. There is no fighting, just the [roadside] bombs, and the abandoned buildings are all rigged with explosives," he said. "We will continue to advance and advance until we are given further instruction."

He said the peshmerga are now waiting for 15 Iraqi military Humvees with mechanized bomb-disposal units. He said some of the explosives had been placed in abandoned buildings by Iraqi troops in an earlier bid to stall the militants' advance.

On Saturday, the U.S. Central Command said nine airstrikes had been launched near the dam, destroying four armored personnel carriers, seven armed vehicles, two Humvees and another armored vehicle. (AP)

3:51 P.M. UN nuclear agency chief Yukiya Amano says Sunday's visit to Tehran was useful and that he was very glad to hear a firm commitment from Iran to resolve all outstanding issues through cooperation between the two sides.

Amano's trip came ahead of an August 25 deadline for Iran to provide information relevant to the International Atomic Energy Agency's inquiry into what it calls the possible military dimensions of the country's disputed nuclear program.

"This has been a short visit, but a useful one," Amano said in Tehran after talks with President Hassan Rouhani and other senior Iranian officials, according to a statement issued by the IAEA in Vienna. (Reuters) 

2:56 P.M. Syrian activists say government warplanes have conducted more than a dozen airstrikes against Islamic State group targets, killing at least 11 people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Syrian military aircraft struck the Islamic State extremist group's northern stronghold of Raqqa and the surrounding region at least 19 times Sunday.

Observatory directory Rami Abdurrahman says six of those raids targeted a military court.

He says at least 16 Islamic State members were killed in Raqqa, and around 40 wounded. The Local Coordination Committees activist collective also reported the airstrikes on Raqqa, but put the death toll at 11. Differences in casualty figures are common in the immediate aftermath of attacks in Syria.

Both activist groups also reported government airstrikes on Islamic State-controlled areas in Aleppo province as well. (Reuters)

9:19 A.M. Iranian state television is reporting that the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog organization has arrived in Iran for talks with President Hassan Rohani.

The state TV report Sunday said Yukiya Amano, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, landed in Tehran late Saturday. It said Amano also will visit with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the head of its own nuclear agency.

Amano's visit comes as world powers continue to negotiate with the Islamic Republic for a permanent deal over its contested nuclear program. Those talks face a November deadline after an interim deal was struck last year. (Reuters)

8:30 A.M. Pakistani opposition politician Imran Khan, who is leading one of two large anti-government demonstrations in the capital, has called on followers to show their strength on Sunday as he tries to force the government to resign.

Khan, a former international cricket star whose speech is still peppered with metaphors of the game, told supporters in a late-night Saturday speech, "maybe the world cup final will be played tomorrow ... people will forget Tahrir Square".

The reference to the square, site of Egypt's most violent anti-government protests, followed a warning by Khan earlier on Saturday that his supporters wanted to march on Parliament house and he was struggling to hold them back.

Khan and cleric Tahir ul-Qadri both led tens of thousands of supporters to downtown Islamabad on Friday. Both protest leaders say they will stay in the streets until Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whom they condemn as corrupt, is forced to resign.
The protests have raised worries about Pakistan's stability barely a year after Sharif took power in a landslide election win that marked the first democratic transfer of power in the history of the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million people.

Sharif has been struggling to overcome daily power cuts, a sluggish economy and a Taliban insurgency. Anti-Western militant groups have been growing in strength, worrying Pakistan's allies.
Sharif's relationship with the country's historically powerful military have been poor since he took office, leading some in his government to speculate elements in the military are directing the protests as a way of weakening the government and discouraging it from policies the military disapproves of.

Those include the prosecution for treason of former army chief and president Pervez Musharraf, who once overthrew Sharif in a coup in 1999, ushering in a decade of military rule.

Despite Pakistan's history of coups, few feel the military wants to oust Sharif. The country's highly activist Supreme Court issued a warning on Friday against any "unconstitutional" action.  (Reuters)