By Mark Ellis
Before terrorists seized the largest dam in Iraq it was considered the most dangerous dam in the world due to its internal failure potential. Now with ISIS controlling the dam and making wild threats, the lives of hundreds of thousands living downstream seem even more precarious.
On August 7th, ISIS announced on their website they had seized the 750-MW Mosul Dam from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.
Then they released the second issue of their online magazine known as Dabique, which included this threat on the cover: “It’s either the Islamic State or the flood.” The issue goes on to discuss punishing sinners by drowning them through a massive flood – perhaps second only in scope to the biblical flood of Noah’s day.
According to a 2009 study by two professors at Mosul University, a catastrophic failure of the dam would cover half of Mosul in 80 feet of water, cover Baghdad in 15 feet of water, and destroy up to 100 square miles of farmland.
If the dam failed, some predict as many as 500,000 people would be killed.
“If [ISIS] wanted to take Baghdad, a massive tidal wave down the Tigris killing potentially hundreds of thousands would certainly provide the destabilization they needed to make it happen. The dam also provides a considerable portion of Iraq’s electricity,” a counter-terrorism expert told Breitbart News.
Ironically, the dam could fail because of its own erosion problems, unless ISIS continues a vigorous repair campaign to correct construction flaws.
The dam was completed in 1984 on an unstable foundation of gypsum, anhydrite, and karstic limestone. “To save construction time, foundation grouting was not completed ahead of time. It began seeping immediately upon filling of the reservoir in 1985,” according to HydroWorld.com.
“This has created a cyclical problem because the seeping of reservoir water into the soluble foundation causes the foundation material to dissolve, which leads to larger open spaces, which in turn leads to larger quantities of water seeping into the foundation and then more dissolution,” Richard Coffman, assistant professor of civil engineering at University of Arkansas, told HydroWorld.
Coffman conducted extensive studies of the dam, using satellite-based radar images taken from March 2003-April 2007. He determined the structure is subsiding at a rate of eight millimeters per year.
“Simply put, if ISIS does not continue grouting operations, the dam may fail,” he concluded.
In 2006, The Army Corps of Engineers said, “in terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world… If a small problem at Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely.”
The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction said in 2007 that the Mosul dam was quite unstable and could very well collapse at any moment.
General David Petraeus and US ambassador Ryan Crocker wrote to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and urged him to make fixing the dam a “national priority.”
Canada’s CBC points out that capturing the dam give the “Sunni militants the ability to flood major Iraqi cities or withhold water from farms.”
The US State Department said the US government is “extremely concerned” by the capture of the dam. “We are coordinating with the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish peshmerga commanders to develop options to mitigate the threat that this poses,” a spokesperson said.