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Kurdish forces retake key dam from Islamic State in ‘strategic victory’

August 17, 2014 at 6:57 PM EST
In what may be considered a strategic victory, Kurdish forces recaptured the area around the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq, with the help of repeated air strikes to the area on Sunday. PBS NewsHour Foreign Correspondent Margaret Warner joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Irbil to discuss the latest developments.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The NewsHour’s foreign correspondent, Margaret Warner, and producer Morgan Till are now in northern Iraq, and Margaret joins us now via Skype from the biggest city in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Irbil.

So Margaret, we’ve been reporting this morning and throughout the day that there have been air strikes near the Mosul Dam to try to help the Kurdish or the peshmerga recapture that area. What have you been hearing on the ground?

MARGARET WARNER: Just as we speak Hari, the BBC is reporting that, in fact, with this combination of heavy U.S. airstrikes, U.S. special forces calling in the locations of the strikes and peshmerga, not only fighters but their special forces, they have retaken the dam.

That is a critical, critical facility it controls a big part of the water that flows down from the Tigris River. It could ultimately threaten Baghdad if that dam were destroyed as in fact the ISIS or ISIL fighters did to that dam as they did to another which was to destroy it.

So that is a huge, strategic and not just tactical but I would say strategic victory for the Kurdish, Iraqi and American forces.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So Margaret you were out on the front lines today in the 115 degree heat, what was it like, what did you see?

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Hari, we went about an hour south of here to this town of Makhmour, which the Kurdish peshmerga have boasted of taking over with the help of U.S. airstrikes.

But only 5 percent of the people in the town have dared to return mostly men to look after their property, like one man had had all his bakery and electronic shop bombed out. So he said he didn’t bring his wife and children. All the men standing around him said the same thing.

And that they would not feel safe until peshmergas drove ISIS farther south. So we went to the frontline in fact we talked to the commander there and then he told us you have to leave now cause new strikes are about to begin.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Considering that there are so many people displaced are you seeing the impacts like that in cities like the one that you’re in?

MARGARET WARNER: Absolutely, Hari. I think this is the untold story of this Kurdish region, having been here just 30 hours. And that is that finding the world’s attention was captured by the tens of thousands who fled from Sinjar, this Christian community farther west, and then they’re making their way into this province, Irbil province, because this is the only place they feel safe and we’ve had this dramatic footage.

The fact is, since early January when ISIS first really entered Iraq in force in Anbar Province, you know, Falluja, Ramadi and so on, you’ve had tens and then hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fleeing to the north, fleeing here to the Kurdish region, because it’s the only place they feel safe. And we’ve talked to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and the man who is a senior advisor to the Kurdish humanitarian agency who both said they think it’s about 1-1.2 million new IDP’s they’re called because they’re not refugees, they’re within the same country (internally displaced people) just since January.

This whole region is only 5 million people, so today for example we met a woman who wasn’t sure of her age, she had fled Makhmour which is where we had been before, she’d come to Irbil with nothing but the clothes on her back with her three sons, two daughters in law, four grandsons and all they could do was live in concrete out buildings in the compound of a relative. They had nothing. I mean they had pallets on the floor that was it.

Now they were given food and water and power, but she was devastated and she’s afraid to go back, and she’s afraid to go back even now that her town’s been retaken. So it’s a heart-wrenching story and it’s also a huge strain of course on the resources of the Kurdish Regional Government.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Margaret Warner joining us from Irbil via Skype, thanks so much.

MARGARET WARNER: Thanks you, Hari.