US launches first strikes in Iraq Sunni Arab heartland
A tribal fighter mans a weapon on a vehicle during an intensive security deployment to fight against militants of the Islamic State - REUTERS

WASHINGTON: The United States launched its first air strikes in Iraq’s Sunni Arab heartland, bombing jihadists near a key dam on the Euphrates River, the U.S. military said on Sunday.

“At the request of the government of Iraq, U.S. military forces attacked ISIL (Islamic State) terrorists near Haditha in Anbar province in support of Iraqi security forces and Sunni tribes protecting the Haditha dam,” the U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

“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 spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.

“The potential loss of control of the dam or a catastrophic failure of the dam—and the flooding that might result— would have threatened U.S. personnel and facilities in and around Baghdad, as well as thousands of Iraqi citizens,” he added.

It was the first time that Washington had carried out air strikes in support of Sunni Arab tribal militia since it launched its air campaign in Iraq on Aug. 8.

Previous strikes had been mainly in support of Kurdish forces in the north, although late last month it gave limited air support to the army and Shiite militia further south in breaking an IS siege of the Shiite Turkmen town of Amerli.

Dams have been a key target for the jihadists. There has been major fighting around Iraq’s largest dam on the Tigris River north of militant-held second city Mosul which has been a major focus of the U.S. air campaign.

There have been repeated attempts by IS to take Haditha Dam.

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