Italian defense minister in Iraq for Mosul dam talks

Italian defense minister in Iraq for Mosul dam talks

BAGHDAD – Reuters
Italian defense minister in Iraq for Mosul dam talks

Italy's Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti (C) visits the Khanki camp on the outskirts of Dohuk province, Iraq May 10, 2016 - REUTERS photo

Italian Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti made an unannounced visit to Iraq on May 9 to discuss logistics for deploying 450 troops near the front line with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to protect workers carrying out repairs to the Mosul dam. 

Pinotti met in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, according to a statement from his office. She later travelled to Arbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) some 115 kilometers east of Mosul dam, Italian defense forces said. 

Italy has about 750 soldiers in Iraq, mostly training Iraqi army and police in Baghdad and Arbil, but the new troops will be deployed not far from ISIL-held Mosul, less than 20 kilometers away from the dam, in a potential combat zone. 

The Iraqi government signed a $296-million contract in February with Italy’s Trevi Group to make badly needed upgrades to the 3.6-km-long Mosul dam, which has suffered from structural flaws since it was built in the 1980s. 

A delegation from Trevi visited the dam in March to begin preparing a nearby site to host the engineers and soldiers, which a source said could take up to six months to complete. 

Islamist insurgents seized the dam in August 2014, leading to fears they might blow it up and unleash a wall of water on Mosul and Baghdad that could kill thousands of civilians. Kurdish Peshmerga fighters recaptured the dam two weeks later with the help of U.S. and Iraqi government forces. 

A U.S. government briefing paper released in late February said the 500,000 to 1.47 million Iraqis living in the highest-risk areas along the Tigris River “probably would not survive” the impact of a flood unless they were evacuated. Iraqi authorities have played down the threat, estimating only a one in 1,000 chance of failure. 

Meanwhile, The Pentagon said that a U.S.-led coalition air strike has killed a senior ISIL leader in Iraq’s Anbar province, along with three other ISIL jihadists.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said the May 6 strike near the town of Rutba - deep in the Anbar desert - targeted Abu Wahib, ISIL’s “military emir” for the vast western province.

Wahib was “a former member of al-Qaeda in Iraq who has appeared in ISIL execution videos,” Cook said.

“We view him as a significant leader in ISIL leadership overall, not just in Anbar Province,” he added.

“Removing him from the battlefield will be a significant step forward.”

The men were traveling in a vehicle when they were hit. Cook provided no additional details and did not specify if a warplane or a drone had carried out the strike.