Iraq’s biggest dam on verge of ‘catastrophic collapse’ – US commander

© Ari Jalal
A hydroelectric dam near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul could rapidly collapse in the near future, resulting in thousands of deaths, a top US general in Iraq warns.

“The likelihood of the dam collapsing is something we are trying to determine right now ... all we know is when it goes, it’s going to go fast and that’s bad,” US Army Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, the head of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, told reporters in Baghdad.

The foundation of the dam, which is the largest in Iraq, requires constant grouting in order to maintain its structural integrity. However, this is no longer possible due to the activities of IS terrorists in the area.

The extremists seized the dam in August of 2014, provoking fears that they could blow it up and unleash a deluge on the densely populated Tigris River valley, as well as on the cities of Mosul and Baghdad, potentially killing thousands of people.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces recaptured the dam two weeks later, eliminating the threat of the demolition. However, IS militants stole all the equipment necessary to maintain the dam and chased away the technicians, leaving the edifice bedridden with structural flaws, according to US Army Colonel Steve Warren, the US-led coalition’s spokesman.

“There was a steady grouting schedule that had been maintained for a long time. When that stopped, obviously the deterioration of the dam increased accordingly,” Warren said as quoted by Reuters.

“If this dam was in the United States, we would have drained the lake behind it. We would have taken that dam out of commission,” MacFarland said in commenting on the issue, adding that Iraqi authorities understood “the potential” for a dam collapse.
He also added that the US military has developed a contingency plan to protect civilians from the impact if the dam does fail.

In the meantime, Iraqi authorities are concluding a deal with an Italian company, the Trevi Group, to upgrade the 3.6 kilometer-long dam and repair its defects.