Iraq's biggest dam is facing potential "catastrophic failure" U.S. officials have warned, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
According to a statement released Sunday by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, "Mosul Dam faces a serious and unprecedented risk of catastrophic failure with little warning."
It said it issued the warning "out of an abundance of caution" and that "prompt evacuation offers the most effective tool to save lives of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis living in the most dangerous part of the flood path in the event of a breach."
If the structure were to give way, it would unleash a wall of water tens of feet tall that would race down the Tigris River toward Mosul and its inhabitants. It would also bring flooding to major cities farther downstream, including Baghdad.
An Iraqi government spokesman told news agencies that the country had signed a deal Wednesday with an Italian company to repair the dam, though it was not stated when work would begin.
And further delay may be a real problem, according to statements by Iraqi engineers who were involved in construction of the dam and who spoke to the Guardian. They warned that even more than half a million people's lives could be at risk if the dam collapses.
Nasrat Adamo, for example,
the dam’s former chief engineer who spent most of his professional career shoring it up in the face of fundamental flaws in its construction, said that the structure would only survive with round-the-clock work with teams filling in holes in the porous bedrock under the structure, a process known as grouting. But that level of maintenance, dating back to just after the dam’s construction in 1984, evaporated after the Isis occupation.
Adamo and other engineers also waned that melting snow will be increasing amounts of water into the reservoirs, increasing pressure that can't escape because gates are stuck.
On top of those concerns, the engineers criticized as "ridiculous" Baghdad's suggestion that Mosul residents move 3.7 miles away from the dam. "There is no support for them there. Nothing to help them live," said another engineer, Nadhir al-Ansari.
Adamo has previously said, "It was a mistake to build the dam, and today it is a nightmare that must be maintained daily."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also warned nearly a decade ago of serious flaws with the dam, saying in a report, "In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world." The Corps also called it "unsafe in any definition."
The dam warnings come as the United Nations political mission in Iraq reports that 670 people died in February, roughly two-thirds of whom were civilians.
'This conflict continues to exact a heavy toll on the population," said Ján Kubiš, head of UNAMI and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq.