WASHINGTON -- The United States conducted a major air assault against the Islamic State at Mosul Dam over the weekend, striking two dozen targets over twenty-four hours with fighter jets, bombers, attack planes and drones.
The attack reportedly succeeded in forcing a retreat by the Islamist forces, which have swept throughout cities and key infrastructure sites in recent weeks.
The US strikes were coordinated with an advance by Kurdish peshmerga forces, which encircled Islamic State fighters at the strategically vital energy facility. The Islamic State retreated on Sunday morning from the dam and it is now under the control of the Kurds.
The fundamentalist Sunni army originally conquered the dam — which provides water and electricity to many cities in northern Iraq, including Mosul, the country's second largest population center — on August 7. US military officials warned throughout the Iraq War that the dam's infrastructure is in a troubling state of disrepair, and Washington feared this month that the Islamic State would not be able to operate the dam properly.
Failure to keep the dam operational risked a catastrophic water leak, risking the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis down river.
The Islamic State retreat marks the second American success this week, after the US military successfully broke a siege the group was conducting against Yazidi religious minorities on Mount Sinjar.
The US conducted seven airstrikes against targets at the base of the mountain, creating corridors for escape, officials describe.
But in a demonstration of their persistence, the Islamist group killed at least 80 Yazidi men and enslaved "hundreds" of women in a small, nearby Yazidi town, according to local officials.
The Islamic State seeks to establish a fundamentalist Sunni "caliphate," in observance with strict Sharia law, from Tel Aviv to Baghdad. The group has successfully taken control of territories throughout eastern Syria and northern Iraq, including Mosul, and Raqqa in Syria, the group's self-described "capital" city.
The Kurds, who live in a semi-autonomous region in the north of Iraq and have proven loyal, moderate allies of Washington, have long dreamed of independence from central governments in Baghdad which oppressed the non-Arab ethnic group for decades under former dictator Saddam Hussein.
Tensions were also high under outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who clashed with them over budgets and oil.
The Kurds since June have capitalized on the chaos in northern Iraq, taking over oilfields in the disputed city of Kirkuk.
But a routing by the Islamic State, which seized heavy weapons from thousands of Iraqi soldiers who fled its onslaught, shattered the myth that the Kurds were highly effective and fearless fighters. Most of them fled.
Iraq's new prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, faces the task of easing Sunni-Shi'ite tensions that have revived a sectarian civil war and Kurdish independence ambitions financed by oil exports.
Reuters contributed to this report.