US warplanes launched four airstrikes against Islamic State militants threatening western Iraq’s Haditha Dam early Sunday, witnesses and senior officials said, broadening Washington’s campaign against the fighters.
The leader of a pro-Iraqi government paramilitary force in the west said the strikes wiped out an Islamic State patrol trying to attack the dam–the country’s second biggest hydroelectric facility that also provides millions with water.
“They (the airstrikes) were very accurate. There was no collateral damage. If Islamic State had gained control of the dam, many areas of Iraq would have been seriously threatened, even Baghdad,” Sheik Ahmed Abu Risha told a foreign news agency.
The strikes were Washington’s first reported offensive into Iraq’s western Anbar province since it started attacks on Islamic State forces in the north of the country in August. The move brought its planes closer to the border with Syria.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said they had been carried out at the request of the Iraqi government.
“If that dam would fall into ISIL’s (Islamic State’s) hands or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that that would cause would be very significant and it would put a significant, additional and big risk into the mix in Iraq,” he told reporters during a trip to Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.
Islamic State has overrun large areas of Iraq and Syria and declared a cross-border Islamic caliphate.
Iraqi government forces and a small number of Sunni militias have been confronting Islamic State and other fighters in Anbar since January.
Iraq’s outgoing Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari welcomed the growing US air campaign and said Islamic State was trying to control strategic assets, including dams across Iraq.