Broken Iraqi Dam Could Kill As Many As One Million People

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Russ Read Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter
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A group of engineers that once maintained northern Iraq’s Mosul Dam — which was previously occupied by the Islamic State — is warning that it is on the brink of failing, putting as many as one million people at risk.

The dam has serious structural integrity problems, which are being exacerbated by the melting winter snow, according to the engineers. To make matters worse, ISIS members looted the dam and did not provide adequate maintenance while they controlled it, increasing the risk of a potential breach that could flood areas around the Tigris valley, all the way down to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

“We used to have 300 people working 24 hours in three shifts but very few of these workers have come back. There are perhaps 30 people there now,” Nasrat Adamo, the dam’s former chief engineer, told the Guardian.

The bedrock underneath the dam’s structure is of particular concern and would require a round-the-clock maintenance team filling in the cracks formed by water pressure to keep the dam going. There are gates that allow water to pass through to ease the pressure, but Adamo noted one of them is stuck — both gates must be closed and opened at the same time to work properly.

“If the dam fails, the water will arrive in Mosul in four hours. It will arrive in Baghdad in 45 hours. Some people say there could be half a million people killed, some say a million,” said Nadhir al-Ansari, another engineer who worked on the dam when it was first built in 1984. “I imagine it will be more in the absence of a good evacuation plan.”

Currently, the Iraqi government’s emergency plan should the dam fail is to tell people to evacuate just a few miles away from the Tigris river, according to al-Ansari, who called this strategy “ridiculous.” The U.S. embassy in Baghdad has told U.S. citizens to evacuate the flood areas immediately should the dam burst.

Even if the Iraqi government provided maintenance, al-Ansari said it would be futile. “All you are doing with grouting is prolonging the life of the dam. There is no permanent solution except building another dam,” he noted.

The Badush Dam, which lies between the Mosul Dam and the city of Mosul, was supposed to be the solution to the problem, but work on it ceased in the 1990s.

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