Militants take Iraq's largest dam
Sunni militants from the Islamic State group have seized Iraq's largest dam, placing them in control of enormous power and water resources.
After a week of attempts, the armed gunmen successfully stormed the Mosul Dam and forced Kurdish forces to withdraw from the area, residents living nearby said.
Islamic State posted a statement online confirming it had taken control of the dam and vowed to continue "the march in all directions". It added that it would not give up the "great Caliphate project".
The al Qaida breakaway group has imposed its idea of an Islamic state in territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, including its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
Iraqi government forces, Kurds and allied Sunni tribal militiamen have been struggling to dislodge the militants with little apparent success.
The Mosul Dam - or Saddam Dam as it was once known - is located north of Iraq's second-largest city Mosul, which fell to the militants on June 10. Fighting intensified in the region on Sunday after the nearby towns of Zumar and Sinjar fell to the militants.
Seizing dams and large reservoirs gives the militants control over water and electricity that they could use to help build support in the territory they now rule by providing the scarce resources to residents. Or they could sell the resources as a lucrative source of revenue.
The Kurdish peshmerga units had initially managed to stall the militant advances, but their defence has waned in recent weeks.
Militants have also overrun a cluster of Christian villages alongside the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, clergymen say. It sent civilians and Kurdish fighters fleeing from the area, they added.
Bishop Joseph Tomas said the village of Qaraqoush and at least four other predominantly Christian hamlets are in the hands of the Islamic State.
The clergyman, based in the Kurdish-held city of Kirkuk, said the surrounding hamlets taken were Tilkaif, Bartella, Karamless and Alqosh.
He said Kurdish peshmerga units, which had protected the area, fled along with civilians. Other priests confirmed the information.
"All Christian villages are now empty," said Bishop Tomas.
When Mosul fell into the militant hands, the Islamic State gave members of the many ethnic and religious minorities an ultimatum to convert, pay a tax or leave. Those who did not obey risked death.
In Batella, Kurdish fighters and local Christian security guards went knocking on people's doors, urging them to leave, said Um Fadi.
A government employee who fled from Mosul with her family for refuge in Batella more than two weeks ago, Um Fadi said she was in despair. "Our situation is miserable," she said. "We do not know what to do or where to go."
The head of the Kurdish regional government, Nechirvan Barzani, urged Iraqi Kurds "not to panic but to remain calm", stay where they are and continue their "normal work and life".
Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for the peshmerga fighters, said clashes around the dam are ongoing and he does not know who is in control.
Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood condemned the Islamic State group's "brutality, intolerance and victimisation" following the attacks in north-west Iraq.
He said: "It is appalling that Isil (as the Islamic State was formerly known) is preventing displaced and vulnerable people around Sinjar from reaching a place of safety where they can be provided with food, water and life-saving assistance.
"UN agencies are ready to respond with strong support and funding from the international community, but Isil is standing between displaced communities and the agencies that can help them."