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The U.S. military said Sunday it launched airstrikes against ISIS in western Iraq in an effort to prevent its fighters from capturing the vital Haditha dam. "We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam, which remains under control of Iraqi Security Forces, with support from Sunni tribes," Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement. The dam - Iraq's second-biggest - is a major source of water and electrical power and the air strikes were made at the request of the Iraqi government, he said.
ISIS fighters were battling last month to capture the facility, which has six power generators located alongside Iraq's second-largest reservoir. But, despite their attacks, Iraqi forces there backed up by local Sunni tribes have been able to hold them off. Earlier this year, the group gained control of the Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates River and the militants used it as a weapon, opening it to flood downriver when government forces moved in on the city.
Water is a precious commodity in Iraq, a largely desert country of 32.5 million people. The decline of water levels in the Euphrates over recent years has led to electricity shortages in towns south of Baghdad, where steam-powered generators depend entirely on water levels. On Friday and Saturday, the U.S. used a mix of attack aircraft, fighter jets and drones to conduct two airstrikes around Irbil.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.