Mosul Dam At Risk of Catastrophic Collapse

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This is one of the scariest stories coming out of Iraq. The engineering catastrophe known as the Mosul Dam was constructed in 1984 out of water-soluble gypsum, a very poor choice of material. Though the U.S. has warned the Iraqi government it poses a major threat of collapse, and despite a $27m US-funded reconstruction project to help repair the dam, there has been virtually no progress. This would be problematic enough if it were only a challenge for the engineers, but given the level of sectarian and insurgent violence in Iraq which seems to know no boundaries, it is a major target for insurgent and/or Al Qaeda attack, threatening large numbers of Iraqi civilians. The mainly Kurdish northern Iraqi city of Mosul where the Dam resides, is known to be one of the calmer and more prosperous Iraqi cities today but there is already a past precedent of at least one massive attack there, the multiple truck bomb attack against the Yazidi tribe which killed upwards of 400 people. The Dam could well be a target for insurgents, (and when that occurs Fox News will read the attack as proof the insurgents are so desperate that it shows the surge is working.) As this article points out, one of the reasons the Iraqi government hasn’t addressed this story upfront is for the very fear it may bring attention to it among insurgents. In a letter Gen. David Petraeus and US ambassador Ryan Crocker wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Malik in May, they stated that, “A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad Assuming a worst-case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave 20m deep at the city of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of life and property.” The estimated loss of life, should the dam collapse, is estimated at as many as 500,000 people. That is more than double the estimated death toll from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear bombings.

Thus, it would be a human tragedy on an almost unimaginable scale, but on a political level it would also be an enormous calamity for the Unites States’ mission in Iraq. Despite U.S. efforts to make it look as though the Iraqi government is sovereign and in charge of the country, it will face blame if the Mosul dam collapses. Lets face it, the Iraqi government is impotent, and a country with over 150,000 foreign troops is not sovereign. The Iraqi government couldn’t even succeed in banning Blackwater USA from operating in its territory. Under international law an occupying power assumes responsibility for the problems that befall that country. This dam was problematic from the time it was built, but legal definitions aside, everyone in the Middle East will understand such a collapse as a result, even if indirectly, of the U.S. war in Iraq. The U.S. would be wise to do whatever it takes to guard the dam from insurgent attack as well as provide the necessary repairs even if this entails building a backup dam right in front of it.

(BBC) — The largest dam in Iraq is at risk of an imminent collapse that could unleash a 20m (65ft) wave of water on Mosul, a city of 1.7m people, the US has warned.

In May, the US told Iraqi authorities to make Mosul Dam a national priority, as a catastrophic failure would result in a “significant loss of life”.

However, a $27m (£13m) US-funded reconstruction project to help shore up the dam has made little or no progress.

Iraq says it is reducing the risk and insists there is no cause for alarm.

However, a US watchdog said reconstruction of the dam had been plagued by mismanagement and potential fraud.

In a report published on Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said US-funded “short-term solutions” had yet to significantly solve the dam’s problems.

SIGIR found multiple failures in several of the 21 contracts awarded to repair the dam.

Among the faults were faulty construction and delivery of improper parts, as well as projects which were not completed despite full payments having been made.

‘Fundamentally flawed’

The dam has been a problem for Iraqi engineers since it was constructed in 1984.

It was built on water-soluble gypsum, which caused seepage within months of its completion and led investigators to describe the site as “fundamentally flawed”.

In September 2006, the US Army Corps of Engineers determined that the dam, 45 miles upstream of Mosul on the River Tigris, presented an unacceptable risk.

“In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world,” the corps warned, according to the SIGIR report. “If a small problem [at] Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely.”

A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad
US letter to Iraqi government

The corps later told US commanders to move their equipment away from the Tigris flood plain near Mosul because of the dam’s instability.

The top US military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker then wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki urging him to make fixing the dam a “national priority”.

“A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad” the letter on 3 May warned.

“Assuming a worst-case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave 20m deep at the city of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of life and property.”

If that were to happen some have predicted that as many as 500,000 people could be killed.

Alarm bells

Iraqi authorities, however, say they are taking steps to reduce the risk and they do not believe there is cause for alarm.

The Iraqi Minister for Water Resources, Latif Rashid, told the BBC that a number of steps were being taken to tackle the problem, including a reduction in water levels in the reservoir and a round-the-clock operation to pump grouting into the dam’s foundations.

Work would also begin next year on a longer-term plan to make the foundations safe by encasing them in a concrete curtain, he added.

The BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad says the debate over the dam has gone on largely behind the scenes so as not to cause public panic or attract the interest of insurgents.

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