Kurdish peshmerga fighters backed by federal forces and US warplanes pressed a counter-offensive yesterday against jihadists after retaking Iraq's largest dam, as the United States and Britain stepped up their military involvement.
The recapture of Mosul dam marks the biggest prize yet clawed back from Islamic State jihadists since they launched a major offensive in northern Iraq in June, sweeping Iraqi security forces aside.
US aircraft are carrying out strikes in support of the forces battling IS militants, who have declared a "caliphate" straddling vast areas of Iraq and Syria.
In Iraq, "the planes are striking and the peshmerga are advancing," a Kurdish fighter told AFP yesterday near the shore of the lake formed by the vast Mosul dam.
Fighting also broke out yesterday in an area south of the barrage while engineering teams worked to clear booby traps and bombs left by jihadists, said Kawa Khatari, an official from Iraq's main Kurdish party.
And a senior peshmerga officer told AFP that there was sporadic fighting with militants in the town of Tal Kayf southeast of the dam, and that only a "small number" of jihadists remain in the area of the dam itself.
Iraqi security spokesman Lieutenant General Qassem Atta confirmed yesterday that Mosul dam was entirely liberated in a joint operation by Iraqi "anti-terrorism forces and peshmerga forces with aerial support".
The Mosul dam breakthrough came after US warplanes and drones at the weekend carried out their heaviest-yet bombing against IS militants in the north since they began launching air strikes on August 8.
The US Central Command reported that the military had carried out 14 air strikes Sunday near the dam located on the Tigris river, which provides electricity and irrigation water for farming to much of the region.
Sunday's strikes destroyed 10 IS armed vehicles, seven IS Humvees, two armoured personnel carriers and one IS checkpoint.
That military action followed nine US strikes near Arbil and Mosul dam on Saturday.
US President Barack Obama told Congress that the "limited" air strikes he has authorised on Iraq to support the fight for the dam protected US interests there.
British Prime Minister David Cameron described the Islamic State fighters sweeping across Syria and Iraq as a direct threat to Britain, and said all available tools must be used to halt their advance.
Cameron, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, said that while it would not be right to send an army into Iraq, some degree of military involvement was justified due to the threat that an expanding "terrorist state" would pose to Europe and its allies.
His Defence Minister Michael Fallon, in comments published yesterday, said Britain's Iraq involvement now goes beyond a humanitarian mission and is set to last for months.