Haditha Dam key to IS leaders' plans to choke off southern Iraq

Published October 19th, 2014 - 07:28 GMT

During its battles for over three years in Syria and more than 120 days in Iraq, ISIS has adopted strategies that are markedly different from those of other jihadi terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda, al-Shabab, and Boko Haram. ISIS’s strategy has relied essentially on tactics like siege warfare, holding territory, and seizing strategic installations, particularly those involving water and energy resources.

Haditha, a small sleepy city on the banks of the Euphrates (260 km west of the capital Baghdad), is one such vital place ISIS wants to seize on account of the dam located there. A huge lake forms behind the dam, whose gates control the Euphrates downstream as it flows into the central and southern regions.

The city is also home to around 100,000 people.

Since the setback of June 10, when ISIS seized a number of cities and large swaths of the Anbar province, the group has been trying to enter Haditha, having controlled nearby areas like Anah and Rawah north of the city, and Brawna and Haqlaniyah to the south, areas that are administratively part of the city.

Colonel Khaled al-Mafraji, police officer in the Haditha district, spoke to Al-Akhbar. He said, “The city has been under daily bombardment from ISIS for more than 120 days, using car bombs, shelling, rocket barrages, and assaults with various types of weaponry.” But he stressed that the defensive positions set up by the city cannot be breached easily, “thanks to the locals’ familiarity with the geography of the land, and the tribal character of the city, home to one of the fiercest tribes of al-Ramadi, the Bunemer.”

Mafraji continued, “After the group failed to breach the city’s defensive barriers, it started implementing a new strategy to subdue it. The group concentrated all its efforts on seizing the Hīt district, the only remaining link between Haditha and Ramadi, which is the center of the Anbar province.”

Two days ago, ISIS raided the city of Hīt after heavy fighting with the Iraqi security forces. However, the ISIS-led forces numbered in the thousands, and were thus able to force the Iraqi forces to retreat before the group seized the entire city.

By controlling Hīt, ISIS has effectively severed the main road linking Haditha to Ramadi. Supplies have been cut off completely from Haditha, with local officials warning foodstuffs could run out soon, which they said would affect the city’s chances to hold off ISIS’s assault.

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is well aware that the areas of the center and the south have long been difficult for his group to penetrate, given the lack of popular support ISIS has there and the ideological and doctrinal aversion to its brand of extremist takfirism. This has prompted the group to use water resources as a weapon.

Water expert Hassan al-Janabi warned the Iraqi government of the consequences if ISIS seizes the Haditha Dam, saying that this would be a major disaster for the areas of the center and the south.

Jannabi told Al-Akhbar, “The Haditha Dam is the second largest dam in Iraq after the Mosul Dam. It is located on the Upper Euphrates basin, and has a storage capacity of 8.3 billion cubic meters and a storage area of 503 square kilometers. It has six radial gates that regulate the flow of water through the dam.”

Jannabi continued, “The disaster is that if ISIS seizes the dam it would fully control the Euphrates River by controlling the dam’s water output. We fear ISIS would do what it had done with the Fallujah Dam, which it had closed fully, cutting off water from the center and the south, and flooding vast areas from Fallujah all the way to Abu Ghraib on the outskirts of Baghdad.”

The Euphrates emerges again out of the gates of the Haditha dam into Ramadi then Fallujah, before making its way to central Iraq, where it flows to the cities of the Babel province, then Karbala, Najaf, Qadisiyah, Samawah, and Nasiriyah, passing through Basra, before reaching Shatt al-Arab in the far south of Iraq.

Following this path, the Euphrates traverses seven provinces in central and southern Iraq, which happen to be majority-Shia areas. These regions rely completely on the river, especially given the high salinity of the groundwater in those areas, making it difficult to process for drinking and cooking purposes in particular.

In light of Haditha’s strategic importance, a number of political and security experts have called on the government to send reinforcements to the area and work on retaking the Hīt district, to allow supply routes to reconnect to the city of Ramadi.

Political analyst Aref al-Darraji called on the government and the general command of the armed forces to act quickly to lift the siege on the Haditha district and liberate Hīt. Darraji said, “ISIS’ control of Haditha and its dam would spell certain death for the people of the center and the south, because all reports indicate the group intends to close down the gates completely and stop the flow of the Euphrates, which would completely dry up more than seven governorates.”

This is while security expert Ali al-Shammari called on the General Command of the Armed Forces to deploy its elite forces and bring in popular forces to retake Hīt and break the siege on Haditha, which he said is crucial and would become an effective weapon in the hands of ISIS should the group seize the city.

By Ahmed Hadi

© Al-Akhbar. All rights reserved

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