ISIS Uses Water as a Weapon in Ramadi

People visit a destroyed bridge on the Euphrates river in northern Ramadi, Iraq, on June 3, 2015. (AP photo)
People visit a destroyed bridge on the Euphrates river in northern Ramadi, Iraq, on June 3, 2015. (AP photo)

ISIS has begun using water as a weapon in eastern Anbar province by restricting the flow of water from a dam on the Euphrates River in Ramadi to government-held areas downstream, the Pentagon said Thursday.

"It's an example of ISIS' terror tactics," Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman said of the closing of most of the gates on the dam on the river skirting the southern edges of Ramadi, which fell to ISIS last month as Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) fled.

The fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) reportedly were opening only two or three of the 26 gates on the dam.

"The use of water as a tool of war is to be condemned in no uncertain terms," said Stephane Dujarric, a United Nations representative in Iraq. "These kinds of reports are disturbing to say the least."

At a Pentagon briefing, Warren said "there is not a large body of water behind the dam that, if destroyed, would cause a downstream flood or catastrophe. But it does mean that if they restrict the dam, it could have implications for farming and other activities. It's something we are keeping an eye on."

Iraqi officials said that restricting the flow of the dam would also allow ISIS fighters, who control the northern side of the Euphrates, to wade across the river below the dam to patrol and disrupt moves by the ISF to mount operations to retake Ramadi from the south.

The reduced flow through the dam threatens irrigation systems and water treatment plants in nearby areas controlled by troops and tribes opposed to ISIS, provincial council member Taha Abdul-Ghani told The Associated Press.

ISIS has previously sought to use water as a weapon in its war to topple the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Last summer, ISIS seized the huge Mosul dam in northern Iraq and threatened to unleash a wave of water that would have flooded Baghdad but Kurdish forces backed by U.S. airstrikes recaptured the dam.

Following the fall of Ramadi, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said his forces would quickly mount a counter-offensive. He was optimistic that the provincial capital of Anbar province could be retaken "within days."

However, there have been few signs of any major moves to reclaim the city. Warren said that ISF actions have been limited to "shaping operations" for a future offensive.

The White House Thursday confirmed that President Obama would meet Abadi next week in Germany on the sidelines of the Group of Seven summit talks on economics and sanctions against Russia for its backing of separatist rebels in Ukraine.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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