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Iraq forces retake Mosul Dam; militants deny claim

BAGHDAD -- Boosted by two days of U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces on Monday wrested back control of the country's largest dam from Islamic militants, a military spokesman in Baghdad said as fighting was reported to be underway for the rest of the strategic complex.

Soon after the news broke, the Islamic State group, which two weeks ago captured the Mosul Dam spanning the Tigris River just north of the city of Mosul, denied the claim, insisting it was still in control of the facility.

The retaking of the dam would mark the first major victory for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling the Islamic militants since U.S. airstrikes began earlier this month.

It could significantly boost their morale as they try to free territory overrun by the Islamic State in a blitz this summer. Also, the dam and its broader complex hold great strategic value as they supply electricity and water to a large part of the country.

Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the dam itself was secured by Kurdish peshmerga troops and Iraqi security forces on Monday but that the southern side of the complex remains contested and that fierce fighting is underway to free that area.

At least 170 bombs have been dismantled around the dam but many more remain, al-Moussawi added in a televised statement.

Al-Moussawi said the Iraqi and Kurdish forces “hoisted the Iraqi flag over” the dam. He added that the troops were backed by a joint aerial support but didn't specify whether there were any U.S. airstrikes in the area of the dam Monday.

Local residents and others in the area could not immediately be contacted to confirm the security forces' recapture of the dam.

Iraq's Ministry of Defense said security forces “liberated a large part of the Mosul Dam” with the help of U.S. airstrikes, adding that forces are working to fully free the entire complex. U.S. Central Command would not immediately confirm any involvement.

However, a senior Kurdish commander told The Associated Press that his peshmerga forces had withdrawn from the dam complex on Monday afternoon because it was heavily rigged with explosives. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.

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Smoke rises during airstrikes targeting Islamic State militants at the Mosul Dam outside Mosul, Iraq, Monday, Aug. 18. (AP)

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