Syria’s Tabqa Dam: A strategic prize

A view shows part of Tabqa dam on the Euphrates river, near Raqqa, Syria, in this June 25, 2014 file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 29 March 2017
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Syria’s Tabqa Dam: A strategic prize

BEIRUT: Syria’s vital Tabqa Dam, the country’s biggest, has become a major part of a Kurdish-Arab assault to cut off Daesh stronghold of Raqqa.
Located in Raqqa province, the dam is built on the 2,800-km-long River, which flows from Turkey through northern Syria and east into Iraq.
The dam is 4.5-km-long, 60-meter-high and 512-meter wide at its base.
Its reservoir, Lake Assad, stretches along 50 km and covers a surface of 630 sq. km. Its total capacity is 12 billion cubic meters of water, making it Syria’s main reserve.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are fighting for the dam and the nearby town of Tabqa before they can advance on Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa.
SDF forces and their allies from a US-led coalition were airlifted behind Daesh lines last week by US helicopters to launch an assault on the dam, around 55 km west of Raqqa.
The SDF have already captured Tabqa’s military airport.
The dam fell into the hands of Syrian opposition fighters in February 2013, before Daesh seized control of Raqqa and its eponymous province in early 2014.
On Tuesday, the situation was relatively calm around the dam, which is still held by Daesh.
The facility went out of service over the weekend after bomb damage to its power station, risking rising water levels if the situation continues, according to a technical source.
The UN’s humanitarian coordination agency OCHA has warned that damage to the dam “could lead to massive scale flooding across Raqqa and as far away as Deir Ez Zor,” a province downstream.
Syrian farmers near the Euphrates say they are terrified Daesh will blow up the dam to defend Raqqa, drowning their tiny villages in the process.
“If this happens, it means most of Raqqa and Deir Ez Zor will drown, while other towns die of thirst and crops and livestock die,” one told AFP.
The Tabqa Dam, also known as the Euphrates Dam, and Al-Thawra Dam (Dam of the Revolution) is as important for Syria as the massive Aswan Dam is for Egypt.
Like the latter, it was built with help from the former Soviet Union, a longtime ally of the Syrian regime.
Building began in 1968, and it was inaugurated in July 1973 during the reign of President Hafez Assad, father of the current leader Bashar Assad.
The Euphrates is the main source of water for agriculture and livestock in the region, and the dam has given Raqqa an important role in the Syrian economy.
It was designed to generate 880 megawatts of electricity and provide irrigation for more than 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) of land.
But high salt levels in the surrounding land have reduced the amount actually irrigated to less than a third.


Car bomb explodes in Assad's Syria stronghold Latakia

Updated 56 min 30 sec ago
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Car bomb explodes in Assad's Syria stronghold Latakia

BEIRUT: A car bomb detonated in Syria's government-held city of Latakia on Tuesday, killing the driver and injuring several other people, Syrian state media reported.
Footage carried on the state-run Al-Ikhbariya news channel showed a large group of people milling around in a street while wreckage smouldered on the ground.
Though President Bashar Al-Assad has regained control over more than half of Syria, attackers have periodically continued to strike in cities he controls with suicide blasts and car bombs.
State news agency Sana reported that the driver of the vehicle, a Suzuki minivan, had been killed in the explosion, and that four other people had been wounded.
It reported that the authorities had dismantled another explosive device in the same location before the blast in the vehicle.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor reported that five people had been injured in the explosion.