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Islamic State Seizes Towns Near Kurdish Area; Dam Seen At Risk

Extremist group the Islamic State have seized small oil fields and several towns, in a successful push against Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. There are conflicting reports that they've also taken control of Iraq's largest dam. The militants are hoping to cement control of the border area between Iraq, Syria and Turkey.

After Iraqi news agencies reported that militants had taken Mosul Dam, the country's Ministry of Water Resources said the claim was false. The dam is a key asset whose capture, NPR's Parallels blog has reported, could have wide repercussions, particularly if the power from its hydroelectric generators is cut, or if water is released to flood cities that are still controlled by the central government — possibly including Baghdad.

At least 14 Kurdish soldiers were reportedly killed in the fighting Sunday; the Islamic State issued a statement claiming to have killed many more, Reuters says.

"Initially strong Kurdish resistance evaporated after the start of an offensive to take the town of Zumar," the news agency reports. "The Islamists then hoisted their black flags there, a ritual that has often preceded mass executions of their captured opponents and the imposition of an ideology even al-Qaeda finds excessive."

From Beirut, Alison Meuse reports for NPR's Newscast:

"Reinforcements are headed to the towns of Sinjar and Zumar, where clashes are raging between Iraqi Kurdish soldiers, called Peshmerga, and the Islamic State. The U.N. says 200,000 people have fled, most of them the religious minority Yezidis.
"The Peshmerga soldiers from Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region are also defending the Rabia post, the only one of three border crossings with Syria not held by the Islamic State.
"One Peshmerga commander says he is cooperating with Kurdish militiamen on the Syrian side to secure the crossing, and that he is expecting more weapons to arrive shortly.
"The Kurdish soldiers have filled a vacuum left by the national Iraqi army, which fled from the Islamic State assault in June. Since then, the Kurds have taken control of much previously disputed territory."

Update at 2:40 p.m. ET: Clarifying The Dam's Status

In light of the conflicting reports about the dam's capture, we've changed the wording of this post. In addition to the government's denial, an NPR journalist was told by the commander of the force there that they hadn't yielded control of the dam.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.