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Friday, March 4, 2016
Another American Gift Of Death And Destruction To Iraq
Another American Gift Of Death And Destruction To Iraq
Another American Gift Of Death And Destruction To Iraq
Iraqis who built dam say structure is increasingly precarious and describe government response as ‘ridiculous’
Baghdad resident Raad al-Quraishi expresses his concerns of flooding from the Mosul dam
Julian Borger World affairs editor
Wednesday 2 March 2016 07.00 GMTLast modified on Wednesday 2 March
Iraqi engineers involved in building the Mosul dam 30 years ago have warned that the risk of its imminent collapse and the consequent death toll could be even worse than reported.
They pointed out that pressure on the dam’s compromised structure was building up rapidly as winter snows melted and more water flowed into the reservoir, bringing it up to its maximum capacity, while the sluice gates normally used to relieve that pressure were jammed shut.
The Iraqi engineers also said the failure to replace machinery or assemble a full workforce more than a year after Islamic State temporarily held the dam means that the chasms in the porous rock under the dam were getting bigger and more dangerous every day.
On Wednesday, the Iraqi government announced it had signed a €273m (£210m) contract with an Italian contractor to reinforce and maintain the Mosul dam for 18 months, following talks in New York between the Italian foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, and US and Iraqi officials. Italy has said it plans to send 450 troops to protect the dam site, but it is unclear how long it will take to replace damaged machinery and reassemble the required workforce.
The engineers warned that potential loss of life from a sudden catastrophic collapse of the Mosul dam could be even greater than the 500,000 officially estimated, as they said many people could die in the resulting mass panic, with a 20-metre-high flood wave hitting the city of Mosul and then rolling on down the Tigris valley through Tikrit and Samarra to Baghdad.
One of the Iraqi engineers, now living in Europe, described as “ridiculous” the Iraqi government’s emergency policy of telling local people to move 6km (3.5 miles) from the river banks.
Nasrat Adamo, 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.
“We used to have 300 people working 24 hours in three shifts but very few of these workers have come back. There are perhaps 30 people there now,” Adamo said in a telephone interview from Sweden, where he works as a consultant.
“The machines for grouting have been looted. There is no cement supply. They can do nothing. It is going from bad to worse, and it is urgent. All we can do is hold our hearts.”
At the same time as the bedrock is getting weaker and more porous, the water pressure on the dam is building as spring meltwater flows into the reservoir behind it. Giant gates that would normally be used to ease the pressure by allowing water to run through are stuck.
“One of them is jammed, and when one of them is closed the other one has to be closed. They must work together,” Adamo said. “Otherwise, you get asymmetric flow and that speeds up the erosion.”
Nadhir al-Ansari, another Iraqi engineer from when the dam was built, also voiced concern about the rising waters in the reservoir.
“The fact that the bottom outlets are jammed is the thing that really worries us,” said Ansari, now an engineering professor at the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden.
“In April and May, there will be a lot more snow melting and it will bring plenty of water into the reservoir. The water level is now 308 metres but it will go up to over 330 metres. And the dam is not as before. The caverns underneath have increased. I don’t think the dam will withstand that pressure.
“If the dam fails, the water will arrive in Mosul in four hours. It will arrive in Baghdad in 45 hours. Some people say there could be half a million people killed, some say a million. I imagine it will be more in the absence of a good evacuation plan.”
He said the government policy response, calling on the local population to move at least 6km from the river Tigris, was “ridiculous”. The US embassy in Baghdad has urged American citizens to leave the area.
“What are all these people, millions of people, supposed to do when they get 6km away? There is no support for them there. Nothing to help them live.”
The Mosul dam was first conceived in the 1950s, but its construction was postponed because of the problematic geology of that section of the Tigris, where much of the bedrock is water-soluble. It was finally built by Saddam Hussein’s regime and seen at the time as a prestige project. At the time, Ansari was a scientific consultant at the irrigation ministry.
Nobody knows when it will fail. It could be a year from now. It could be tomorrow.
Nasrat Adamo, the dam's former chief engineer
“I went to visit the site and saw what kind of stone there was there. A lot of gypsum and anhydrite, which are very soluble. I was really concerned; I told the director general. He said: ‘Don’t worry. This is all being taken care of.’”
In the preceding years, successive foreign consultants had pointed out the weaknesses in the rock formations but all assured the Iraqi government the problem could be solved by grouting. The decision to go ahead was pushed through by one of the regime’s vice-presidents, Taha Yassin Ramadan.
“Ramadan was very keen to have the dam,” Ansari said. “He wanted to show Saddam he was doing something brilliant, and he came from Mosul, so he wanted to do something that brought jobs to Mosul. This sped up the decision.”
The dam was designed by a Swiss firm of consultants and built by a German-Italian consortium in 1984. Water began seeping through in 1986, when it became apparent that the geological issues were worse than the consultants had predicted. From then on it required constant maintenance to fill the caverns being hollowed out by water running through the soluble bedrock. A total of 95,000 tonnes of grout of different types were used over the dam’s lifetime.
“All you are doing with grouting is prolonging the life of the dam. There is no permanent solution except building another dam,” Ansari said. A second structure, the Badush dam, was started 20km downstream, to prevent a catastrophe in the event of the Mosul dam’s failure. But work on Badush halted in the 1990s because of the pressure of sanctions, leaving it only 40% complete.
An international conference has been announced in Rome in April to discuss ways of preventing a disaster, but by then it could already be too late.
“Nobody knows when it will fail,” Adamo said. “It could be a year from now. It could be tomorrow.”
Mosul Dam: Why the battle for water matters in Iraq
By Alex MilnerBBC News
The Mosul dam is the water and electricity lifeline to the 1.7 million residents of Mosul
Struggle for Iraq
Whoever controls the Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq, controls most of the country's water and power resource.
When Saddam Hussein built the dam three decades ago, it was meant to serve as a symbol of his leadership and Iraq's strength.
The dam is the latest key strategic battleground in northern Iraq between militants from Islamic State (IS), who took it on 7 August, and Kurdish and Iraqi forces supported by American airpower.
Located on the River Tigris about 50km (30 miles) upstream from the city of Mosul, the dam controls the water and power supply to a large surrounding area in northern Iraq.
Its generators can produce 1010 megawatts of electricity, according to the website of the Iraqi State Commission for Dams and Reservoirs.
The structure also holds back over 12 billion cubic metres of water that are crucial for irrigation in the farming areas of Iraq's western Nineveh province.
Instrument of war
However, since its completion in the 1980s, the dam has required regular maintenance involving injections of cement on areas of leakage.
The US government has invested more than $30m (£17.9m) on monitoring and repairs, working together with Iraqi teams.
The black flags of jihadist group Islamic State flew over the Mosul dam for 10 days before it was recaptured by Kurdish and Iraqi ground forces
In 2007, the then commanding general of US forces in Iraq, David Petraeus, and the then US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, warned Iraq's PM Nouri Maliki that the structure was highly dangerous because it was built on unstable soil foundation.
"A catastrophic failure of Mosul dam would result in flooding along the Tigris river all the way to Baghdad," they said in a letter.
"Assuming a worst-case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave 20 metres (65.5ft) deep at the city of Mosul," it said.
Writing to Congress, President Obama cited the potentially massive loss of civilian life and the possible threat to the US embassy in Baghdad.
Those dangers, he wrote, were sufficient reasons for deploying air power to support Kurdish forces trying to recapture the dam.
'Method in their madness'
Relief in Washington and Baghdad will only come when IS militants, who have sought control of water resources before, have been stopped from using the dam as an instrument of war.
The deployment of air power by the US in support of Kurdish forces has shown how seriously the White House takes the potential threat posed by IS control of the dam.
The Fallujah dam, in the Nuamiyah area of the city, in Iraq's western Anbar province, fell under IS control in February.
However, the group has so far failed in its attempts to capture the Haditha dam, Iraq's second largest, from the army.
The Tigris River crosses Iraq and Syria at Fishkhabour, where displaced Yazidis have travelled to escape the Islamic State advance
The 8km-long Haditha dam and its hydro-electrical facility, located to the north-west of Baghdad, supply 30% of Iraq's electricity. Securing it was one of the first objectives of US special forces invading Iraq in 2003.
With the Mosul dam in its hands, the concern is that Islamic State could "flood farmland and disrupt drinking water supplies, like it did with a smaller dam near Fallujah this spring," wrote Keith Johnson in an article for Foreign Policy last month.
In May, a flood displaced an estimated 40,000 people between Fallujah and Abu Ghraib.
Earlier this month, IS militants reportedly closed eight of the Fallujah dam's 10 lock gates that control the river flow, flooding land up the Euphrates river and reducing water levels in Iraq's southern provinces, through which the river passes.
Many families were forced from their homes and troops were prevented from deploying, Iraqi security officials said.
Reports say the militants have now re-opened five of the dam's gates to relieve some pressure, fearing their strategy might backfire if their stronghold of Fallujah flooded.
Image caption Key Iraqi dams taken or at risk of being taken by Islamic State
In the days after they took over the Mosul dam, militants were reportedly blackmailing frightened workers to either keep the facility going or lose their pay.
Analysts fear the Islamic State could now use the dam as leverage against the new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, by holding on to the territory around it in return for continued water and power supply.
The group already controls other key national assets - several oil and gas fields in western Iraq and Syria.
"These extremists are not just mad," says Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution's Doha Centre in Qatar.
"There's a method in their madness. They've managed to amass cash and natural resources, both oil and water, the two most important things. And of course, they're going to use those as a way of continuing to grow and strengthen."
Dr. Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. Roberts' latest books areThe Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West
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