Even when ISIS militants can't maintain control of Iraq's cities and villages, they have another weapon at their disposal: water. The insurgents are increasingly cutting off water to villagers, extorting local governments, and flooding homes, schools, and farms in an effort to gain the upper hand by usurping one of the country's most valuable infrastructures, the Washington Post reports. "Controlling water resources in Iraq is even more important than controlling the oil refineries," a Middle East expert tells the Guardian. "Cut off [the supply] and you create great sanitation and health crises."
The use of water as a weapon isn't a novel concept: The Post mentions the German dams that were bombed by the Allies during World War II, as well as Saddam Hussein draining his own country's southern marshes as revenge for anti-government protests in the '90s. But the US is especially worried that the water supply in the hands of a "radical, non-state group" such as ISIS could be catastrophic for a country that's already enduring a water shortage from too little rain and too much water use, the United Nations reports. And ISIS isn't content with simply inconveniencing a few villages: It has set its sights on taking over the Mosul and Haditha dams, which generate electricity for Iraqis and water their wheat fields, notes the Post. ISIS "understands how powerful water is as a tool, and they are not afraid to use it," the director of a London security think tank says.