​Water wars: ISIS shuts down Iraqi dam, uses freshwater as weapon – reports

Reuters / Mohammed Badra
Islamic State militants have shut the gates to the Euphrates River dam in western Iraq, limiting the amount of water coming through, media reports have said. The tactic gives the group battlefield advantage, and has also sparked humanitarian concerns.

By reducing the flow of the water downstream, Islamic State (formerly ISIS/ISIL) militants have reportedly made it easier to cross the river and attack pro-government forces based further south.

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“Previously [security forces] had to monitor only the bridges and certain areas, but now all of the river will be crossable,” Reuters reported Hikmat Suleiman, spokesman for Anbar Governor Suhaib al-Rawi, as saying.

The capital of Anbar province, Ramadi, is a particular concern for the Iraqi forces since the Euphrates River was a natural barrier between IS militants on the northern bank and security forces on the southern bank.

Suleiman added that troops now need to be spread out across the river to keep the militants out.

The closing of the gates also put the southern provinces at risk of draught.

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“The government must act immediately otherwise dire consequences and an environmental catastrophe will be inevitable,” senior provincial security official Falih al-Essawi said.

The limited water supply will also put irrigation systems in danger and could create havoc for water treatment plants, provincial council member Taha Abdul-Ghani told AP.

The militants have reportedly left two of the dam gates opened, so as not to flood IS-controlled territory.

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One of the solutions proposed by the Anbar provincial council to deal with this problem involved blowing up one of the dam’s gates to release the closed-off water.

The United Nations condemned Islamic State’s use of freshwater as a weapon. “The use of water as a tool of war is to be condemned in no uncertain terms,” Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, told reporters Wednesday. “These kinds of reports are disturbing, to say the least.”

Islamic State used similar tactics in the past against the Iraqi forces. About a year ago, the extremist group managed to take control over the Mosul dam in northern Iraq, threatening to flood Baghdad. Eventually, ISIS was driven out by the Kurdish forces.