SUNNI MILITANTS from the Islamic State have seized Iraq’s largest dam, placing them in control of enormous power and water resources, on the same day they forced thousands of Christians to flee for their lives.
After a week of attempts, armed gunmen from the group known as Isis stormed the Mosul Dam and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area.
Isis posted a statement online confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowed to continue “the march in all directions” throughout Iraq.
It added that it would not give up the “great Caliphate project”.
Pope Francis yesterday issued a stark warning over both the fate of Christians and the wider humanitarian situation.
The al-Qaeda breakaway group has imposed its idea of an Islamic state on territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, including its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the militants with little apparent success.
The Mosul Dam – or Saddam Dam as it was once known – is located north of Iraq’s second-largest city Mosul, which fell to the militants on 10 June.
Fighting intensified in the region on Sunday after the militants took the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar.
Seizing dams and large reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they could use to help build support in the territory they now rule. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.
Kurdish peshmerga units had managed to stall the militant advances, but their defence has waned in recent weeks.
Militants have overrun a cluster of Christian villages alongside the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, clergymen said.
Bishop Joseph Tomas, who is based in the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk, said the village of Qaraqoush and at least four other predominantly Christian hamlets – Tilkaif, Bartella, Karamless and Alqosh – are in the hands of the Islamic State.
He said the peshmerga units, which had protected the area, had fled along with civilians.
Bishop Tomas added: “All Christian villages are now empty.”
When the Islamic State captured Mosul, it gave members of the ethnic and religious minorities there an ultimatum to convert, pay a tax or leave. Those who did not obey risked death.
In Bartella, Kurdish fighters knocked on people’s doors, urging them to leave, it was reported.
The head of the Kurdish regional government, Nechirvan Barzani, urged Iraqi Kurds “not to panic but to remain calm”, stay where they are and continue their “normal work and life”.
Yesterday, Pope Francis called for world governments to take measures to protect Christians driven from their villages in northern Iraq and provide them with humanitarian aid.