Warnings of Mosul dam disaster downplayed by Baghdad
BEIRUT - The United States has warned that the Mosul dam, weakened as a result of the war with Islamic State, could burst and send a catastrophic wave downriver to engulf Iraq’s second largest city and flood Baghdad. Iraqi officials, however, dismissed reports of damage as “rumours”.
Experts said a breach of the dam, which holds 8.1 billion-11.1 cubic metres (bcm) of water, could send a tsunami-like crush of water surging at speeds of 3.5 kilometres per second with waves as high as 25 metres down the Tigris, inundating Mosul’s population of 650,000. Waves as high as 4 metres would rush towards Baghdad, 350km to the south. Hundreds of thousands could be killed and more than 2 million displaced.
“All we know is when it goes, it’s going to go fast and that’s bad,” said US Army Lieutenant-General Sean MacFarland, adding that experts continue to assess the dam, a showpiece project built in the 1980s under dictator Saddam Hussein.
US President Barack Obama telephoned Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on January 26th to discuss the Mosul dam, Iraqi lawmaker Shrouq al-Ubaiyachi said.
“When Obama calls the Iraqi prime minister and the Mosul dam is the focus of the call, one can’t but take the issue seriously,” Ubaiyachi said.
Dam officials, however, dismissed any imminent danger, with Deputy Manager Abdullah Taaqi saying: “This is bogus.”
“Rumours,” he said, could have stemmed from a “technical fault” that closed part of the dam. “It could be that people see water is only flowing from one side, unlike before, when it poured down from two sides,” he said.
Worries over the dam are not new. Cracks were noted shortly after it became fully operational in 1986. Experts said the dam’s gypsum and limestone bed dissolves in water, causing cracks that undermine the foundation.
Temporary solutions dictated constant grouting but when Islamic State (ISIS) seized the dam along with Mosul in August 2014, speculation mounted that the militants might destroy it. The dam was soon recaptured but by then workers had fled and there was a break in the grouting schedule.
Despite its reservations over the threat, the Iraqi government awarded a contract to the Italian Trevi Group on February 2nd to repair the dam.