Islamic State expands control in two regions

Attacks target Lebanon and northern Iraq

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IRBIL, Iraq -- The Islamic State expanded two fronts Sunday, defeating Kurdish troops protecting a major dam and, in Lebanon, attacking a series of army posts along the border with Syria.

It was the worst spillover of fighting into Lebanon since the start of the civil war in neighboring Syria.

Fighting on both fronts, which has previously been limited to small-scale clashes between local security forces and fighters from the Islamic State, began Saturday as it appeared the newly announced Islamic caliphate was pushing to expand on both its eastern and western borders into new territory, the first such expansion into new territory since it took over much of northern and central Iraq and merged it with previously held territory in eastern Syria to form a caliphate announced June 29 by the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

After repelling an attack by militants Saturday, Kurdish troops in Zummar, a small village adjacent to Mosul Dam, the largest in northern Iraq, were overrun Sunday. Local media reported the dam itself fell later in the evening.

A Kurdish intelligence official, who could not speak on the record about security matters, confirmed that Zummar and the western Iraqi town of Sinjar had fallen to the Islamic State on Sunday but denied that the dam, which controls most of the agricultural water flow in northern Iraq and has been described by officials in the past as poorly maintained, had fallen to the radicals.

"The Mosul Dam remains secure, the propaganda reports from the Baghdad television stations are just trying to cause panic," he said. "We are moving reinforcements into the area and will begin an operation to retake these lost villages and possibly confront the terrorists with an attack on Mosul in the coming days."

The loss of the dam would not only puts the Islamic State in control of one of Iraq's largest supplies of water, but also could flood most of the neighboring provinces should the levee break -- a realistic concern, according to one expert.

"That dam is a nightmare," said a security consultant for a western oil company with operations in northern Iraq. "It's poorly maintained and while it doesn't control drinking water, it does put all of the irrigation water from here to Baghdad in the hands of [the Islamic State]. And if it failed, the flooding would be catastrophic."

The strategic loss of Zummar and possibly the Mosul Dam was compounded by a potential humanitarian catastrophe as the radical rebels also overran the town of Sinjar, home to large population of Yezidis, a religious minority considered heretics by the group's austere brand of Islam.

The Kurdish Defense Ministry said 14 fighters were killed Saturday but did not release any numbers for the clashes Sunday. A Twitter account associated with the Islamic State on Sunday said that it had killed scores of the Kurdish fighters and seized significant amounts of military hardware.

"Hundreds fled leaving vehicles and a huge number of weapons and munitions and the brothers control many areas," the Islamic State statement said. "The fighters arrived in the border triangle between Iraq, Syria and Turkey."

Witnesses in the area reached by Reuters confirmed that large numbers of Kurdish fighters had fled from Sinjar shortly after the fall of Zummar.

In another situation hundreds of miles away that highlights the increasing regional reach of the Islamic State, the arrest of one of the group's commanders by Lebanese security forces drew what appeared to be hundreds of fighters from Islamist rebel groups fighting in the nearby Syrian mountains for widespread fighting around the Lebanese city of Aarsal, a hotbed of support for the Syrian revolution.

By Sunday morning, fighting had broken out throughout the area as fighters from local Sunni tribes, the Islamic State, the Nusra Front and other rebel groups clashed with the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah in a series of running gun and artillery battles that sent much of the civilian population in the area into a panicked flight to safety.

Lebanese television showed images of the local army base on fire after being overrun by militants, although Army Cmdr. Jean Kahwaji said the facility has been retaken by special forces shortly afterward.

IRBIL, Iraq -- The Islamic State expanded two fronts Sunday, defeating Kurdish troops protecting a major dam and, in Lebanon, attacking a series of army posts along the border with Syria.

It was the worst spillover of fighting into Lebanon since the start of the civil war in neighboring Syria.



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