The Latest about the Mosul Dam
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
This weblog updates my article "Saddam's Damn Dam [i.e., The Mosul Dam], published today.
In a bizarre miniature version of the Mosul Dam, Steven Erlanger reported just yesterday in "Gaza's Reflection in a Foul Threat," about problems in Gaza:
(November 7, 2007)
Dec. 17, 2007 update: A truck bomb has blown up about 1 kilometer away from the Mosul Dam, killing one policeman, injuring a second, and damaging a section of the main access bridge connecting the dam's two shores, announced Brigadier-General Abdul-Kareem al-Jubouri, the commander of police operations in northern Nineveh province. According to Reuters, "Jubouri said the bomber parked his truck near the bridge, telling police that it had broken down and that he need to fetch a tow truck. Shortly after he left the scene it detonated."
Security officials say scores of armed men have entered the Province of Nineveh with orders to detonate Mosul Dam. … "Some 250 armed men have entered Nineveh Province with the aim of detonating the Mosul Dam," one source said. Another source said information was based on intelligence tips passed to provincial authorities recently. "The men were trained in Pakistan," the source added. … The government is reported to have sent more reinforcements to the area.
Comments: (1) What was the purpose of this exercise? A shot across the bow, an announcement of intentions? But why give a warning?
(2) Given the parlous state of the Mosul Dam, as I detailed in a recent column this news is particularly menacing. At a time when the the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finds the current probability of failure to be "exceptionally high," the U.S. government is setting itself up for a massive coup of bad publicity by closely associating with a potential disaster waiting to happen.
(3) If it's high time to make it clear to all concerned that the Mosul Dam is an Iraqi problem, not an American one, that is not at all the trend. On Nov. 29, the U.S. Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment announced it had contracted Versar Inc. to repair Mosul Dam for $320,000 by engaging in an "enhanced grouting" program with geotechnical support. This political mistake could do immense and lasting damage to the American reputation worldwide.
Dec. 18, 2007 update: Some additional details on the bombing, from a Los Angeles Times report:
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling , commander of Multi-National Division - North.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling , commander of Multi-National Division - North.
Feb. 20, 2008 update: Khidhr Domle paraphrases Nineveh Deputy Governor Khasraw Goran in the Kurdish Globe on the possibility of the Mosul Dam's collapse. Goran considers this to have become
Comment: $1 million sounds a bit on the cheap side to me.
May 1, 2008 update: The International Medical Corps (which calls itself "a global, humanitarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to saving lives and relieving suffering through health care training and relief and development programs") is engaged in a multi-month initiative "to draw up a crisis plan for the Mosul dam."
Oct. 19, 2008 update: An elusive news report, "Water resources: filling of al-Mosul dam about to end," translated from As-Sabah newspaper (I could not locate the original) reads in full as follows:
Dec. 22, 2008 update: Dams break not just in Gaza but also in the United States. The breach took place at an earthen dam holding back a 40-acre retention pond used by the Tennessee Valley Authority, "releasing a frigid mix of water and ash that flooded as many as 10 homes and put hundreds of acres of rural land under water."
Mar. 12, 2009 update: In a paper prepared for the Thirteenth International Water Technology Conference in Hurghada, Egypt, two professors at Mosul University prepared a paper titled "Simulation: Tigris River Flood Wave in Mosul City Due to a Hypothetical Mosul Dam Break" that looks at various outcomes should Mosul Dam experience a catstrophic collapse. The authors, Thair M. Al-Taiee and Anass M. M. Rasheed, explain that they chose to analyse this particular dam because of its defects since going online in 1986. "The objectives of the present research were to predict the characteristics of the flood wave due to a hypothetical Mosul Dam break and to estimate damaged areas downstream, specially in Mosul city."
The authors ran five different scenarios to simulate dam failure. At the high end, it found the most severe flooding would entail:
Comment: Imagine a wall of water 25 meters high; and it that is too awful, the least severe scenario posits a wall of water half that high.
June 4, 2009 update: In a rare news report to acknowledge the fragility of the Mosul Dam, Heath Druzin of Stars and Stripes writes that "Forces put aside differences to protect vital dam: Iraqi, Kurdish troops to work together to secure structure."
Brown believes that the dam agreement has larger implications: "Two days ago there was a temporary solution, but through a joint effort, and extensive communication, it has evolved into a permanent solution that could become the model for the rest of Iraq with regards to solving provincial issues in the disputed areas. What has occurred is a true success."
The Mosul Dam.
The Mosul Dam.
The report then reiterates the usual fears of what a collapse would mean for Mosul city, Baghdad, and all Iraq. Then, more surprisingly, we learn that something may be done about the looming disaster:
July 14, 2009 update: Perhaps the danger of collapse will be obviated by a lack of water? According to a report by Campbell Robertson in the New York Times today,
Sep. 26, 2009 update: A review of news on Al-Jazeera reports that something is actually happening at the damn dam:
Oct. 1, 2009 update: A snippet from an article on "A Precarious Peace in Northern Iraq" by Quil Lawrence conveys the precariousness of the current situation there:
Oct. 3, 2009 update: Lawrence takes another cut at the same subject, this time in the context of Arab-Kurd joint patrols in northern Iraq:
July 31, 2010 update: In an unusual statement by Ministry of Electricity's the ministry's information officer, Musaeb al-Mudaress, that the dam "cannot be filled with more than 40% of its capacity" of 11 billion cubic meters of water. Its hydro-electricity power plants used to produce around 320 steady megawatts but now they produce less than 100 erratic megawatts. Khayoun Saleh writes in "Iraq's largest dam loses 60% of its water reserves," for Az-Zaman, that this drastic decline "is catastrophic to Iraqi agriculture since the water reserves were essential to farmers cultivating land on both sides of the River Tigris."
Why the decline? Saleh explains: not due to lowering water levels from the Tigris but due to erosion of its foundations. The reduction is "necessary to preserve its shaky foundations and prevent its failure which is bound to inundate major cities including Mosul and Baghdad if it bursts at full capacity."
Sep. 1, 2010 update: Iraq's minister of water resources Jamal Rashid said that cracks in the Mosul dam cause a loss of half a million dollars per year and causes electricity problem in the country. Therefore, his ministry is offering tenders to treat the cracks.
Nov. 4, 2011 update: Could the Iraqi government be prepared seriously to address Mosul Dam's infrastructural problems? It appears so, judging by the amount of money involved:
Comment: Curious that the U.S. government punted on this issue and the Iraqi government has taken responsibility for it. Good for the Iraqis – and lucky for the Americans, who would get the blame for a catastrophe.
Dec. 25, 2011 update: For an aerial view of the dam and its lake, click here.
Apr. 2, 2012 update: A series of foreign sources have reported on growing dangers to the Mosul Dam:
The Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources today denied the problem. Ali Hashem, general director of the ministry's projects department said: "The reports obtained by the ministry confirm the absence of any fears from the collapse of the dam, and the reports that foreign and local media mentioned are inaccurate." Hashem said the ministry is working on an ongoing basis to repair and rehabilitate the dam. Government statistics indicate that this maintenance costs about US$500 million a year.
Apr. 15, 2012 update: Issa Elias, Nadhir Al-Ansari, and Sven Knutsson of the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden have published a study on "The effect of operation of Mosul dam on sediment transport in its reservoir Publication."
June 17, 2012 update: In an alarming statement, a geologist named Walid Satee has declared that, at a meeting with engineers and geologists, it was found that "Mosul Dam will collapse within a period that doesn't exceed this month." Satee noted the urgent need to discharge water from the dam "to prevent the occurrence of cracks that would lead to explosions inside its structure," adding that a team of engineers and specialists has been formed which will start to empty water from the dam "and guide it to the southern marshes of Iraq." Should a collapse take place, he went on, "Mosul will sink. The flood waters that will result from the collapse of the dam will reach the capital [of Baghdad] within three days."
In contrast, Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources rejected as "completely untrue and groundless" the predictions of an imminent collapse and asserted that "the dam situation currently is very safe, well-functioning and the maintenance and perpetuation work of the dam is continuing."
Comments: (1) Let us hope the ministry is right and Satee is wrong. (2) How fortunate that U.S. forces are gone from Iraq and, should things go terribly wrong, it will not be seen as an American responsibility. Or will it?
June 27, 2012 update: Abdul Khaliq al-Dabbagh, the director general of the Mosul Dam, said that talk of the dam collapsing is "groundless" and "mere rumor that aims to confuse the situation in the province." Rather, he asserted, "The situation in the dam is safe and it is better than the previous condition due to the continuous works of grouting and injection for the dam's base which started to improve after 2006. … "We do not have any concerns about the dam's collapse."
July 16, 2012 update: More words of comfort from Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources, though some huge caveats. Minister of Water Resources Muhannad al-Saadi told Shafaq News (with mild English-language editing by me) during a visit to Mosul that "developments at the dam are very reassuring; sustaining and maintenance work is continuing and because of it, there is no fear of collapse."
But then he added several eyebrow-raising points:
Comments: (1) That the dam was built without heed to earthquakes confirms how poorly it was constructed. Those responsible for the building of this structure should, at no cost to the Iraqi government, pull down the damn dam in an orderly way, before catastrophe strikes. (2) The good minister appears to be contradicting himself – either a quake can bring it down in the next twenty years or it cannot. (3) Once again, the dangers poised by the Mosul Dam appear not to be taken seriously enough.
Jan. 3, 2013 update: Something else to worry about: according to an analysis, "Sedimentation and New Operational Curves for Mosul Dam, Iraq," by Issa Issa, Nadhir Al-Ansari, and Seven Knutsson of Lulea University of Technology, Sweden, the annual sedimentation rate in the reservoir behind the Mosul Dam is 0.59 percent. The authors conclude that this "suggests that the reservoir will be filled completely within 169 years." Well, it's something to worry about if the dam lasts that long.
Jan. 4, 2014 update: An unnamed Iraqi expert in dam construction told Shafaq News that he holds Saddam Hussein fully responsible should the Mosul Dam collapse because he was aware about the problem of its location but insisted on that current location for political reasons – to cut off Kurdish movement in the area. The engineer also recounted how Russian experts had been brought in to take a look and reported that the ground was not suitable because of its gypsum base, which gets eroded by water. This weak base has meant a need to pump liquid cement under and around the dam.
May 20, 2014 update: For some pictures of the Mosul Dam, click here.
June 10, 2014 update: The group called "The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria" captured Mosul yesterday from the Iraqi government. For a discussion of what this might mean for Iraq's waterworks, see my new weblog entry, "Will ISIS Cause a Water Catastrophe in Iraq?"
July 2, 2014 update: Keith Johnson has this to say about Mosul Dam in Foreign Policy:
July 4, 2014 update: An American who once worked at the Mosul Dam informs me that it has been directly threatened and an attempted low scale attack has proven to unsuccessful, so far.
He notes that Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "has had on his desk the repair plans from Germany's Bauer Group for the Mosul Dam for 4 years and has done nothing to begin the process. I had access to the plans and know it was to be a huge project; plus, evaluation teams had already arrived. But when Maliki began consolidating power, progress stopped and things have remained at a standstill since 2010. The world should know that if the dam fails or is blown up, responsibility lies completely at the feet of Maliki."
On the other hand, my informant is optimistic about the Kurdistan Regional Government's growing reach: "The Mosul Dam lies completely within Kurdish territory and now that the KRG is on the move, it will benefit from protection by Kurdish security and might get fixed."
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