The move is the latest strategy in the war as Iraqi forces struggle to claw back ground held by the extremists in the Sunni heartland.
It’s not the first time that water has been used as a weapon of war in Mideast conflicts and in Iraq in particular. Earlier this year, IS reduced the flow through another lock outside the militant-held town of Fallujah, also in Anbar province. However, the extremists soon reopened it after criticism from residents.
The IS captured Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar, last month, marking its most significant victory since a US-led coalition began an air campaign against the extremists last August. Earlier last year, the IS had blitzed across much of western and northern Iraq, capturing key Anbar cities and also Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city that lies to the north of Baghdad.
Also yesterday, UN officials urgently called for $497m (€439m) in donations to provide shelter, food, water and other life-saving services for the next six months to Iraqis displaced by the fighting between government forces and IS.
The reduced flow of water through the militant-held dam on the Euphrates River will threaten irrigation systems and water treatment plants in nearby areas controlled by troops and tribes opposed to the extremists, provincial council member Taha Abdul-Ghani said.
Abdul-Ghani said there would be no immediate effect on Shiite areas in central and southern Iraq, saying water is being diverted to those areas from the Tigris River.
The UN had said it was looking into reports that IS had reduced the flow of water through the al-Warar dam.
“The use of water as a tool of war is to be condemned in no uncertain terms”, the spokesman for the UN secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters. “These kinds of reports are disturbing, to say the least.”
He said the UN and humanitarian partners will try to “fill in the gaps” to meet water needs for the affected population.
In Brussels, UN officials said the needs of Iraqis affected by the fighting are huge and growing, with more than eight million people requiring immediate support, and potentially 10 million by the end of 2015.