Iraq crisis: Mosul dam recaptured from militants - Obama

The BBC's Paul Wood: "There's some fight left in the jihadis yet, at least on this part of the frontline"

Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Iraqi troops have retaken Mosul dam from Islamic State (IS) militants, US President Barack Obama has said.

Mr Obama said the US helped in the operation. Air strikes targeted IS around the dam, Iraq's largest.

He said the move was a "major step forward", and the US had begun a long-term strategy to defeat the militants.

The statement followed Iraqi claims that the dam had been "fully cleansed", but IS said it was still in control.

Separately, Pope Francis said action to stop IS attacking religious minorities should be agreed by the UN.

He said intervention should not be carried out by "one nation alone".

US President Barack Obama says IS militants are "a threat to all Iraqis and the entire region"

BBC Rome correspondent Alan Johnston says that up until now the Pope has taken a resolutely pacifist view, but on this occasion he seemed a little less emphatic in his opposition to a more muscular approach.

Christians have been among religious groups persecuted by IS since the militants captured a swathe of north-western Iraq.

The Pope said he was considering a visit to the region to show solidarity with its Christians.

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At the scene: Paul Wood, BBC News, near the Mosul Dam

We drove towards the dam, following a path cleared by the Kurdish forces. Until a few days ago, the road, and the villages either side were in the hands of Islamic State. There were several burnt-out vehicles and blackened buildings, evidence of the fighting, and that the jihadists did not leave easily.

We reached a Kurdish forward artillery position. The jihadists were just two miles (3km) away from the battery, the soldiers said. They fired a Grad rocket launcher to push them back still further.

A plume of smoke of the horizon was a village burning, set alight by the jihadists as they retreated, a Kurdish special forces officer told me. He was confident they had Islamic State was on the run. Shortly after he told us this, a mortar shell came in, landing about 50m (160ft) away in the soft earth.

"Don't worry, they're running out of ammunition," said the officer. Five minutes later, another round landed. We decided to leave.

Still, the Kurds are making progress - assisted by American air power overhead. The fight for the city of Mosul itself will, of course, be much, much harder. And the Mosul dam is just one of many battlefronts against Islamic State throughout Iraq.

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Map of Mosul dam, Iraq
Smoke rises during air strikes on the dam - 18 August Air strikes against IS positions appeared to continue on Monday
A Kurdish Peshmerga fighter prepares his weapon near the Mosul Dam at the town of Chamibarakat (17 August 2014) Kurdish officials said Islamic State fighters had put up stiff resistance, slowing the Peshmerga's advance
Peshmerga fighters near the Mosul Dam (17 August 2014) The US has said its deployment of air power in support of the Kurdish forces will be limited
'Long-term strategy'

Speaking to journalists on his return from holiday, Mr Obama praised the joint operation to recapture the dam, saying that if it had been breached it could have had catastrophic consequences.

The mission had also demonstrated that Iraqi and Kurdish forces were capable of working together, and they had "performed with courage and determination".

He said that the US had provided urgent assistance to the Iraqi forces, and air strikes had stopped the militant advance.

"We will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against [the militants] by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region," he said.

The dam, captured by IS on 7 August, is located on the River Tigris about 50km (30 miles) upstream from the city of Mosul.

It controls the water and power supply to a large surrounding area in northern Iraq.

Earlier, Kurdish officials said the Peshmerga had recaptured most of the area around the dam, but still had more to do to achieve full control.

They said IS fighters had put up stiff resistance, and had planted many roadside bombs and other explosive devices, which their special forces were now trying to clear.

US bombers, fighter jets and unmanned drones carried out a total of 25 air strikes over the weekend, with 15 more on Monday.

The BBC's Jim Muir looks at why the dam is so important

On Monday, the UK said its mission in Iraq would be stepped up to go beyond the provision of humanitarian aid.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said the mission could last for months and now involved the transport of ammunition and weapons from third countries to the Peshmerga.

The BBC's Jim Muir, who is in the northern city of Irbil, says Kurdish forces are planning to advance eastwards from the Mosul dam to the plains of Nineveh and westwards towards Sinjar.

Thousands of members of the Yazidi religious minority were forced to flee Sinjar when jihadists overran the town two weeks ago, prompting an international aid operation and helping to trigger the US air strikes.

Map showing US air strikes in northern Iraq

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