Iraq forces retake Mosul Dam; militants deny claim

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Iraq forces retake Mosul Dam; militants deny claim
Shiites volunteers, loyal to Muslim Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, take positions during a military advance in areas under the control of Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in the town of Samarra, in Salaheddin provinceTikrit, on July 12, 2014. Iraqi forces and tribal fighters beat back a fresh assault by Sunni militants on the town of Haditha, strategic for the large nearby dam and its oil refinery, police said. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi troops monitors an area west of the shrine city of Karbala, in central Iraq on June 29, 2014. Iraqi forces pressed a campaign to retake militant-held Tikrit, clashing with Sunni fighters nearby and pounding positions inside the city with air strikes in their biggest counter-offensive so far. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED SAWAF (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images)
Kurdish Peshmerga forces raise the Kurdish flag at a checkpoint on the road leading from Kirkuk to northern Iraqi city of Tikrit on June 30, 2014. Ruthless jihadists spearheading a Sunni militant offensive in Iraq have declared an 'Islamic caliphate' and ordered Muslims worldwide to pledge allegiance to their chief, in a spectacular bid to extend their authority. AFP PHOTO/MARWAN IBRAHIM (Photo credit should read MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi Kurdish forces take position as they fight jihadist militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on June 29, 2014 in the Iraqi village of Bashir (Basheer), 20 kilometers south of the city of Kirkuk. Iraqi forces pressed a counter-attack on Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit as Russia delivered Sukhoi warplanes to aid Baghdad in what diplomats warn is an existential battle against Sunni militants. AFP PHOTO /KARIM SAHIB (Photo credit should read KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi Kurdish forces take position as they fight jihadist militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on June 29, 2014 in the Iraqi village of Bashir (Basheer), 20 kilometers south of the city of Kirkuk. Iraqi forces pressed a counter-attack on Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit as Russia delivered Sukhoi warplanes to aid Baghdad in what diplomats warn is an existential battle against Sunni militants. AFP PHOTO /KARIM SAHIB (Photo credit should read KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi soldier monitors a street west of the shrine city of Karbala, in central Iraq on June 29, 2014. Iraqi forces pressed a campaign to retake militant-held Tikrit, clashing with Sunni fighters nearby and pounding positions inside the city with air strikes in their biggest counter-offensive so far. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED SAWAF (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi soldier monitors a highway west of the shrine city of Karbala, in central Iraq on June 29, 2014. Iraqi forces pressed a campaign to retake militant-held Tikrit, clashing with Sunni fighters nearby and pounding positions inside the city with air strikes in their biggest counter-offensive so far. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED SAWAF (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi soldier monitors a street west of the shrine city of Karbala, in central Iraq on June 29, 2014. Iraqi forces pressed a campaign to retake militant-held Tikrit, clashing with Sunni fighters nearby and pounding positions inside the city with air strikes in their biggest counter-offensive so far. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMMED SAWAF (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images)
Peshmerga fighter guard a position on front line of fighting with Islamic State (IS) militants 20 kilometres east of Mosul, on August 18, 2014. Kurdish peshmerga fighters backed by federal forces and US warplanes pressed a counter-offensive Monday against jihadists after retaking Iraq's largest dam, as the United States and Britain stepped up their military involvement. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Peshmerga fighter guard a position on front line of fighting with Islamic State (IS) militants 20 kilometres east of Mosul, on August 18, 2014. Kurdish peshmerga fighters backed by federal forces and US warplanes pressed a counter-offensive Monday against jihadists after retaking Iraq's largest dam, as the United States and Britain stepped up their military involvement. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Peshmerga fighters rest at a position on front line of fighting with Islamic State (IS) militants 20 kilometres east of Mosul, on August 18, 2014. Kurdish peshmerga fighters backed by federal forces and US warplanes pressed a counter-offensive Monday against jihadists after retaking Iraq's largest dam, as the United States and Britain stepped up their military involvement. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - AUGUST 17 : Iraqi forces patrol around Jurf al-Sakhar town in Iraqi province of Babil after Iraqi army announced a military operation against Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIL in Jurf al-Sakhar town on August 17, 2014. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters drive trucks as they head to the Mosul dam on the Tigris river that they recaptured from Islamic State jihadists on August 17, 2014 near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Peshmerga forces backed by US air strikes retook the country's largest dam, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Mosul, that jihadist militants seized the previous week, officials said. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters drive trucks with a machine gun mounted on the back as they head to the Mosul dam on the Tigris river that they recaptured from Islamic State jihadists on August 17, 2014 near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Peshmerga forces backed by US air strikes retook the country's largest dam, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Mosul, that jihadist militants seized the previous week, officials said. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters celebrate sitting on the back of a truck as they head to the Mosul dam on the Tigris river that they recaptured from Islamic State jihadists on August 17, 2014 near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul. Peshmerga forces backed by US air strikes retook the country's largest dam, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Mosul, that jihadist militants seized the previous week, officials said. AFP PHOTO/AHMAD AL-RUBAYE (Photo credit should read AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters load missile launcher during the clashes with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters load missile launcher during the clashes with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters keep guard during the clashes with army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters load missile launcher during the clashes with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: A Kurdish peshmerga fighter performs prayer and other peshmergas load missile launcher to fight with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters load missile launcher during the clashes with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters keep guard during the clashes with army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters use missile to fight with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmergas fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters use missile to fight with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters load missile launcher during the clashes with the army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters keep guard during the clashes with army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Iraqi Shiite volunteers who have joined government forces to fight Sunni jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) take part in a training session near the southern port city of Basra on August 7, 2014. A UN statement said some reports put the number of people forced to flee by the IS takeover at 200,000. AFP PHOTO / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi Shiite volunteers who have joined government forces to fight Sunni jihadists from the Islamic State (IS) take part in a training session near the southern port city of Basra on August 7, 2014. A UN statement said some reports put the number of people forced to flee by the IS takeover at 200,000. AFP PHOTO / HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI (Photo credit should read HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 6: Syrian People's Protection Units (YPG) members fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Rabia town, Mosul, Iraq on August 6, 2014. YPG members and Kurdish Peshmerga forces fire to howitzers and machine guns against ISIL during the clashes. (Photo by Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 6: Syrian People's Protection Units (YPG) members fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Rabia town, Mosul, Iraq on August 6, 2014. YPG members and Kurdish Peshmerga forces fire to howitzers and machine guns against ISIL during the clashes. (Photo by Emrah Yorulmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 6: Kurdish peshmergas patrol in Mahmur area to prevent the attacks of army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 6 August, 2014. Peshmergas ditch the area that they deploy in order to stop army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. (Photo by Sivan Siddik/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 4: A general view of Mosul Dam which seized by Iraqi Peshmerga forces against the rising Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) threat in Mosul, Iraq on August 5, 2014. (Photo by Hemn Baban/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 4: Iraqi Peshmerga forces seize Mosul Dam against the rising Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) threat in Mosul, Iraq on August 5, 2014. (Photo by Hemn Baban/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmergas fight against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSUL, IRAQ - AUGUST 8: Kurdish peshmerga fighters keep guard in a car during the clashes with army groups led by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Mosul, Iraq on 8 August, 2014. (Photo by Feriq Ferec/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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By SINAN SALAHEDDIN

BAGHDAD (AP) -- Boosted by two days of U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces on Monday wrested back control of the country's largest dam from Islamic militants, a military spokesman in Baghdad said as fighting was reported to be underway for the rest of the strategic complex.

Soon after the news broke, the Islamic State group, which two weeks ago captured the Mosul Dam spanning the Tigris River just north of the city of Mosul, denied the claim, insisting it was still in control of the facility.

The retaking of the dam would mark the first major victory for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling the Islamic militants since U.S. airstrikes began earlier this month.

Kurds 'Break IS Hold on Mosul Dam'

It could significantly boost their morale as they try to free territory overrun by the Islamic State in a blitz this summer. Also, the dam and its broader complex hold great strategic value as they supply electricity and water to a large part of the country.

Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the dam itself was secured by Kurdish peshmerga troops and Iraqi security forces on Monday but that the southern side of the complex remains contested and that fierce fighting is underway to free that area.

At least 170 bombs have been dismantled around the dam but many more remain, al-Moussawi added in a televised statement.

Al-Moussawi said the Iraqi and Kurdish forces "hoisted the Iraqi flag over" the dam. He added that the troops were backed by a joint aerial support but didn't specify whether there were any U.S. airstrikes in the area of the dam Monday.

Local residents and others in the area could not immediately be contacted to confirm the security forces' recapture of the dam.

Iraq's Ministry of Defense said security forces "liberated a large part of the Mosul Dam" with the help of U.S. airstrikes, adding that forces are working to fully free the entire complex. U.S. Central Command would not immediately confirm any involvement.

However, a senior Kurdish commander told The Associated Press that his peshmerga forces had withdrawn from the dam complex on Monday afternoon because it was heavily rigged with explosives. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

In an Internet statement, the Islamic State denied losing control of the dam, dismissing the government claim as "mere propaganda war." The statement, which could not be independently verified, was posted on a website frequently used by the militants.

The U.S. launched airstrikes against the Islamic State group in Iraq more than a week ago in a bid to halt its advance across the north. The U.S. military said U.S. forces conducted nine strikes Saturday and another 16 on Sunday.

The dam's seizure by Islamic State militants on Aug. 7 was part of a string of victories by the Sunni radical group as it looks to expand its hold in northern Iraq, driving back Kurdish forces, sending minority communities fleeing and unleashing a wave of violence over a territory straddling the Syria-Iraq border.

The decision to launch airstrikes marked the first direct U.S. military intervention in Iraq since the last American troops withdrew in 2011 and reflected growing international concern about the extremist group.

The White House sent a letter to Congress on Sunday saying that its air campaign in Iraq "is consistent with the president's directive that the U.S. military protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, since the failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians and threaten U.S. personnel and facilities - including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad."

It also noted that the failure of the dam could "prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services" to the Iraqi people.

Some 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting in Iraq since the Islamic State's rapid advance began in June. The scale of the humanitarian crisis prompted the U.N. to declare its highest level of emergency lasts week.

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