Islamic State claims first major victory over Kurds

Al-Qaeda-linked fighters captured Mosul Dam, oilfield and three towns

Islamic State fighters seized control of Iraq's biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns on Sunday after inflicting their first major defeat on Kurdish forces since sweeping through the region in June.

Capture of the Mosul Dam after an offensive of barely 24 hours could give the Sunni militants the ability to flood major Iraqi cities, sharply raising the stakes in their bid to topple Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shia-led government.

Islamic State, which sees Iraq's majority Shia as apostates who deserve to be killed, also seized the Ain Zalah oil field, adding to four others already under their control, and three towns.

They faced strong Kurdish resistance only at the start of their latest offensive when taking the town of Zumar. The Islamic State fighters then hoisted their black flags, a ritual that usually precedes mass executions of their captured opponents and the imposition of an ideology even Al-Qaeda finds excessive.

The group, which has declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, poses the biggest challenge to the stability Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Since thousands of Iraqi soldiers fled the Islamic State offensive, Shia militias and Kurdish fighters have been seen as a critical line of defense against the militants, who have threatened to march on Baghdad.

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In a statement on its website, Islamic State said its fighters had killed scores of Kurdish fighters. "Hundreds fled leaving vehicles and a huge number of weapons and munitions and the brothers control many areas," Islamic State said. "The fighters arrived in the border triangle between Iraq, Syria and Turkey," it said.

Islamic State, which changed its name earlier this year from the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), has stalled in its drive to reach Baghdad, halting just before the town of Samarra, 62 miles north of the capital.

Islamic State has capitalized on Sunni disenchantment with Maliki. Critics say Maliki as put allies from the Shia majority in key military and government positions at the expense of Sunnis, driving a growing number of the religious minority in Iraq to support the Islamic State and other insurgents. He is also at odds with the Kurds.

The Kurds have long dreamed of their own independent state, an aspiration that has angered Maliki, who has frequently clashed with the non-Arabs over budgets, land and oil. After the Islamic State arrived, Kurdish forces seized two oil fields in northern Iraq and took over operations from a state-run oil company, complicating the task of trying to hold the country together.

A Kurdish oil tanker hoping to deliver its crude in Texas has become a source of contention between the U.S. and Baghdad, with Iraq’s government filing a complaint to the state of Texas claiming the oil was smuggled out of the semi-autonomous region. Kurdistan has said the oil is completely legal.

A U.S. judge initially issued an order to seize the 1-million-barrel United Kalavrvta tanker, but later she said she didn’t have the jurisdiction because of its distance from shore.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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