Obama intervention highlights fears over Iraqi dam

US President Barack Obama has written to the Iraqi President to express his concerns over the current status of Mosul Dam, a facility with over 1,000 MW of hydroelectric power generation contained within it.

Reuters reports that Haider al-Abadi received the correspondence after scientists concluded that the dam was structurally deficient and in danger of collapse.
Mosul Dam
Such an incident at the crumbling dam could kill up to a million people and unleash widespread environmental damage, as well as cause a huge destabilizing political impact.

The dam’s main 750 MW power station contains four 187.5 MW Francis turbine-generators while a pumped-storage hydroelectricity power plant with a capacity of 250 MW and a run-of-the-river dam downstream with a 62 MW capacity also belong to the scheme. It is ranked as the fourth largest dam in the Middle East, measured by reserve capacity, capturing snowmelt from Turkey, some 70 miles (110à‚ km) north.

A US government briefing paper released in late February says that the 500,000 to 1.47 million Iraqis living in the highest-risk areas along the Tigris River “probably would not survive” the flood’s impact unless they evacuated.

“Governance and rule of law would be disrupted by widespread human, material, economic, and environmental losses,” says the paper.

Earlier this month Iraq signed a $296m contract with Italy’s Trevi Group to reinforce the dam in northern Iraq. Shoring the facility up will also require a large Italian military presence at the dam, built in the 80’s on water-soluble gypsum.

Trevi stated it will take four months to prepare the work site. The 2.2 mile (3.5 km)-long hydroelectric dam faces its highest risk between April and June from rising water levels due to melting snow.

Up until now, efforts to repair the dam — which lies about 30 miles northwest of the city of Mosul — have been handicapped by Iraq’s chaotic security situation and political divisions.
Mosul Dam map
Maintenance was suspended after Islamic State seized the dam for two weeks in August 2014, scattering workers and destroying equipment. Work has resumed in recent months but officials have said international expertise is needed to prevent collapse.

Grout to reinforce the dam must be trucked in from Turkey, officials said, because the previous factory is in Mosul, now controlled by Islamic State militants.

Obama‘s decision to put his concerns in writing are believed to be motivated by US intelligence reports and a new US Army Corps of Engineers study that found that the dam is even more unstable than believed, according to unnamed US officials.

Some Iraqi officials said Washington is sounding loud alarms over the dam to absolve itself of responsibility. The United States could have soughtà‚ a more permanent solution before its 2011 pull out of combat troops but merely kept the dam operating at minimum cost, they contend.

The structure was built on what one senior USAID official called “the geologic equivalent of Swiss cheese.”

While the full US Army Corps of Engineers report hasn’t been released, slides summarizing its conclusions were posted on the Iraqi parliament’s website last month.

“All information gathered in the last year indicates Mosul Dam is at a significantly higher risk of failure than originally understood and is at a higher risk of failure today than it was a year ago,” says one slide.

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