Whether IS insurgents, who have propelled themselves eastward across Iraq in a wave of terror attacks and intimidation, actually secured the dam was a matter of conjecture for several days. However, Atheel al-Nujaifi, governor of Ninewa province, said in a telephone interview Thursday that Kurdish troops abandoned defense of the province in what he termed an "organized retreat."
The dam on the Tigris River, finished in 1986, is 30 miles northwest of Mosul -- Iraq's second-largest city, which has been under control of the Islamic State since June 10. Mosul's electrical power is derived from the dam, as is the water supply for a large section of the surrounding territory. A 2007 U.S. government report said a failure of the dam could send a 65-foot wave of water over northern Iraq.
The Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is attempting to consolidate its held territory in central Iraq and western Syria into what it terms a caliphate, and is pushing northward into Kurdish territory and the Kurdish capital, Erbil.
Kurdish television reported Wednesday the towns of Mahmour and Gwar, 20 miles west of Erbil, fell to IS forces, but Thursday a Kurdish colonel said Mahmour was retaken. Qaraqosh, east of Erbil and regarded as a center of Iraqi Christianity, was held by Kurdish forces until Thursday, when it fell to the militants in the Kurdish retreat. The fall of Qaraqosh had led to another mass movement of refugees into northern Kurdistan.
The news of IS forces seizing the Mosul Dam comes as U.S. President Barack Obama is reportedly weighing options in response to IS-led unrest.