Islamic State takes control of Sinjar, Mosul Dam in northern Iraq

Iraqi and Syrian towns and cities seized by the Islamic State and its allies. Map created by The Long War Journal. Click to view larger map.

The Islamic State is reported to have taken control of the city of Sinjar as well as the Mosul Dam, at least one oil field, and a handful of towns in northern Ninewa province after Kurdish forces withdrew from the area this weekend.

Islamic State fighters first took control of Zumar, a town east of the Tigris River and about 50 miles south of Mosul, after attacking today “from three directions in pick-up trucks mounted with weapons,” Reuters reported. Kurdish forces withdrew after fighting for 24 hours. On Aug. 1, Kurdish military officials claimed to have killed 20 Islamic State fighters and captured 20 more in Zumar, and also said the Peshmerga are reinforcing the area after receiving “advanced weapons” from the US. On Aug. 2, a Kurdish official said that 14 Peshmerga troops and more than 100 Islamic State fighters were killed during the fighting.

After seizing Zumar, Islamic State fighters today reportedly took control of the city of Sinjar, which sits near the Syrian border and is west of Tal Afar and Mosul, two cities currently under Islamic State control. In Sinjar, Kurdish forces retreated after putting up “little resistance.” Islamic State fighters also took over the Mosul Dam, after “Kurdish troops had loaded their vehicles with belongings including air conditioners and fled,”Reuters reported.

In addition, the Ain Zalah and Butmah oil fields, as well as four oil wells, lie just north of the dam and are thought to be under the control of the Islamic State. The jihadist group controls dams and oil infrastructure in both Iraq and Syria, and uses the resources to fund its operations.

The Islamic State is also said to be fighting Kurdish forces in Rabaih, a town on the border with Syria.

The Islamic State claimed to have killed “dozens” of Kurdish Peshmerga and to have seized “a large quantity of weapons and equipment” during the takeover of Sinjar. The jihadist group made the claims, which could not be confirmed, in a statement released on the Ninewa Division’s Twitter page.

The United Nations’ envoy to Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, warned that “[a] humanitarian tragedy is unfolding in Sinjar,” as more than 200,000 people are thought to have fled Sinjar to the nearby Jalab Sinjar mountains to escape the Islamic State’s advance. “The humanitarian situation of these civilians is reported as dire, and they are in urgent need of basic items including food, water and medicine,” a UN statement said, according to AFP.

It is unclear if the Peshmerga are abandoning the areas, which have been held by Kurdish forces for years, or withdrew temporarily to organize their forces. A Peshmerga spokesman said today that Kurdish forces are preparing to go on the offensive after receiving heavy weapons. One official said the Peshmerga are preparing to retake Sinjar by attacking “from four different directions.”

The Islamic State’s takeover of Sinjar, Zumar, and the Mosul Dam constitutes the group’s first major gains after a blitzkrieg offensive launched on June 10 in conjunction with allied groups that put it in control of Mosul, Tikrit, and a number of cities and towns in Salahaddin, Ninewa, and Diyala provinces. That offensive stalled on the outskirts of Samarra, just north of Bagdad. Meanwhile, the Islamic State controls most of Anbar province and much of northern Babil province. The fighting has largely stalemated as Iraqi forces backed by Shia militias, including many supported by Iran, have failed to regain lost ground but have held most areas under their control.

Across the border in Syria, the Islamic State has taken control of most of Deir al Zour province and has made gains in Homs province as well. Large areas of Raqqah, Hasakah, and Aleppo provinces are also under Islamic State control.

The Islamic State, which was previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, declared the establishment of its caliphate on June 29, and appointed Abu Bakr al Baghdadi as Caliph Ibrahim. Baghdadi appeared for the first time in public at a mosque in Mosul on July 4.

The declaration of the caliphate is controversial in jihadist circles and among Islamic State allies such as the Baathists and other insurgent groups in Iraq. Several al Qaeda affiliates as well as well-respected jihadist ideologues have denounced the Islamic State’s announcement as premature and said the group did not properly consult leading clerics and jihadist groups.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Mike E says:

    Leading from behind is a failure. Don’t do stupid stuff? The IS had captured half of Syria and one third of Iraq. Seems stupid to me.

  • Eric Sykes says:

    I remember sitting in a joint special operations briefing prior to deploying to Iraq in 2006 where they told us in so many terms that their objective was to disrupt and stop the formation of the Islamic caliphate, which would be largely centered in Iraq.
    Now the threat is back and it is bigger, more weaponized, heavily funded, and more radicalized as ever. Any takers?

  • Marcus says:

    The recognized Iraqi government, Shia dominated and a rump state, does not want to share the proceeds of the oil wealth on an equal basis. So the Peshmerga has a dearth of weapons except what they could seize out of the armories after the IA crumbled. The PM allowed this because it was a fait accompli. ISIS or the Peshmerga were going to get the weapons and the Maliki would rather ISIS not get them.
    So the Shia are just happy they have time to regroup while ISIS pounds the Kurds. Yes, this makes sense. It is not like ISIS won’t also get stronger and maybe stronger much faster with more secure internal lines of communication.
    Yet the Shia keep denying the Kurds the ability to sell oil and fund an adequate defense. This does not end well.
    Between the Argentina’s default and other defaults , the world economy is dragging. America and others are more likely to be focused on economics and political infighting for the next 2 1/2 years. They won’t be riding to the Shia’s rescue. Do the Shia have 2 1/2 years to beggar the Kurds and rely on the Iranians?

  • Ararat says:

    Where are you ? our brothers, our friends, in the West, in America … We are Kurds, as long as we bet on your love for us, as long as we loved you, we have been happy for our friendship, and as long as we defended you against Arabs, Turks ..
    Now our people are subjected to genocide, rape, dying of thirst in the wilds, by Muslim terrorists, and we only have the Kurdistan Regional Government, which does not have strong arms.
    We urge you, in the name of God, the god of love, help us ..

  • Marcus says:

    Where are we?
    I would rather the U.S. helps the Kurds over the Maliki, but you see, who we have as president.
    I would that we had our alliances intact with the tribes of the Sunni Awakening, but who would trust us? An election goes by and we abandon our allies.

  • m3fd2002 says:

    Let’s see if IS can maintain their hold on the Mosul Dam. This is a very strategic position, one that the Kurdish forces cannot leave in the hands of IS. Its worth fighting over. In addition, IS units are targeting the Haditha Dam complex as we speak. I can see IS taking Haditha and holding it. If they get complete control over both dams (Mosul/Haditha), they can and will use those water resources as a weapon against everyone down stream. It makes sense.

  • Bungo says:

    Where is the Iraqi counter attack that American advisers were sent there to advise?

  • Jacques Buzzard says:

    The Islamic Caliphate is growing very skillfully. This seems in many ways to follow the natural progression of a modern revolution / coupled with classic Medieval Islamic Jihad (like how Mohammed and gang took half of Christendom 1400 years ago).
    The big concern is if IS can achieve just the right balancing act of sufficient organization, popular support (just enough) / ruthless suppression of “allies”, strategic control of resources/financing/arms/etc.
    Any student of Sunzi’s Art of War (or Sun Tsu) if you prefer as well as classics like Mao’s Guerilla War. Would say the Islamic Caliphate is doing a pretty impressive job.
    Taking all this into account, it seems like a massive regional war if not the rise of an existential threat (à la Nazis or Bolsheviks) is well underway. Only this time it aint communism or Nazis, its F—-g Jihadis all very ready for their 40 virgins (the Vikings had a similar Death Cult for Valhalla and did pretty well too).
    Lastly, imagine the Jihadi Caliphate is able to squeeze just enough oil from the world economy to cause a collapse and then there is a Global Depression. . . sound familiar to the 1930? It should.
    Dangerous times to say the least!!!

  • DR says:

    Sorry Ararat, if it were up to me I would designate my significant tax dollars to fund a drone and air campaign that would decimate ISIS and allow for the Kurds to finally establish a homeland akin to what we provide for Israel. Unfortunately, the voices in our leader’s head are focused on punishing Maliki for not bowing to his infinite wisdom and fulfulling his campaign promises to neuter America.

  • OlympicKids says:

    Leading from behind is a failure.

  • Prometheus says:

    The IS does not have control of the Mosul dam. Yet. The Peshmerga will be able to protect the dam, it’s borders and retake Sinjar when it has proper ammunition and heavier weapons. The US needs to step up and start providing materiel as well as come to the realization that the One Iraq policy is an antiquated and wrong-headed idea. It’s time to support Kurdish independence. The Kurds could be our greatest ally in the region next to Israel and provide a willing and capable partner to combat the IS.

  • KW64 says:

    I do not understand how, if Assad is winning in Syria and IS is supposedly at war with Assad that IS has the wherewithal to take on the Kurds, invade Lebanon and fight an Iraqi Shiite Iranian alliance all at the same time. You just do not hear of much fighting between Assad’s forces and IS.

  • Mr T. says:

    Amazing that an Army with only ground forces and no air support can dominate a battlefield.
    I know they hide behind the women and children which make it difficult to attack them but it seems like some air support would change the battle fairly quickly. Is Obama still “thinking” about it and “studying” it? There comes a time for a decision before the innocents are all obliterated.

  • Penelope Hanna says:

    It’s time to take every bomber we’ve got, loaded with bombs, fly over Iraq and Syria and bomb every last one of the areas ISIS has taken over.


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