Iraqi dam could collapse at any time, kill 500,000 people

posted at 1:52 pm on October 30, 2007 by Allahpundit

Of all the unrealistic expectations before the war, the one I was most unrealistic about was the pace of improvements to Iraq’s infrastructure. The Army Corps of Engineers would upgrade all the big stuff in a year or two, I thought — the electrical grid, oil capabilities, you name it. The fact that they’re talking now about a 65-foot wall of water set to descend on Mosul has an almost Old Testament aspect to it as a rebuke to that belief.

It’s not the U.S.’s fault — Saddam very shrewdly built the structure on material that dissolves when it makes contact with water — but it is the U.S.’s problem. And grave enough that they went to some lengths to keep it secret.

“In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world,” the Army Corps concluded in September 2006, according to the report to be released Tuesday. “If a small problem [at] Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely.”

The effort to prevent a failure of the dam has been complicated by behind-the-scenes wrangling between Iraqi and U.S. officials over the severity of the problem and how much money should be allocated to fix it. The Army Corps has recommended building a second dam downstream as a fail-safe measure, but Iraqi officials have rejected the proposal, arguing that it is unnecessary and too expensive.

The debate has taken place largely out of public view because both Iraqi and U.S. Embassy officials have refused to discuss the details of safety studies — commissioned by the U.S. government for at least $6 million — so as not to frighten Iraqi citizens. Portions of the draft report were read to The Washington Post by an Army Corps official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The Post also reviewed an Army Corps PowerPoint presentation on the dam…

“Mosul Dam is ‘unsafe’ in any definition,” an [ACE] PowerPoint presentation said. It added: “Condition continually degrading” and “Failure mode is credible.” Under a section labeled “Consequences of Failure,” it says: “Mass civilian fatalities.”

Ayoub said U.S. officials spoke in person about the dam in even more apocalyptic terms. “They went to the Ministry of Water Resources and told them that the dam could collapse any day,” he said.

The contractors working on it have apparently done next to nothing to fix it. Lawhawk points to the fact that the ACE assessments were completed last September as evidence that this really isn’t “news,” that the media’s just rolling it out now to dim the recently brightening narrative. What’ll dim the narrative is if that thing cracks and a trillion gallons of proof of the Iraqi and U.S. governments’ incompetence comes bearing down on half a million people. The WaPo story explicitly says that the ACE assessments weren’t released until today; that’s why it’s being reported now. And in fact, there have been new warnings since last September. Petraeus and Crocker themselves warned Maliki in May of this year that he might want to either get to work on it or start relocating Iraqis in the dam’s path. The minor logistical problem with that, if you believe WaPo, is that the flood would race through Mosul and possibly end up in Baghdad itself — with 15 feet of water in some areas.

The open question is why no one who knew how dire the situation is leaked it to force the public’s attention to it. It could be because they’re not really that concerned, but that contradicts the ACE evidence. It’s more likely that they’re so worried that they didn’t want to tip their hand and make it a target for jihadists looking for another strike in the mold of the Samarra shrine bombing, but a thousand times more spectacular. How they’re going to deal with that problem now, only Petraeus knows.

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It’s more likely that they’re so worried that they didn’t want to tip their hand and make it a target for jihadists

That’s why I’d keep it quiet.

Editor on October 30, 2007 at 1:58 PM

Par for the course for that part of the world. And they want to rule the world? I think the task of running the world is a little beyond their capacity.

saiga on October 30, 2007 at 1:58 PM

Why shrewdly built? Sarcasm, I guess. Odd word choice, though.

Life imitates the onion again :/

http://www.theonion.com/content/video/preemptive_memorial_honors_future

lorien1973 on October 30, 2007 at 1:59 PM

Yeah, I don’t understand why the feds would publish this report. It’s bizarre.

Allahpundit on October 30, 2007 at 1:59 PM

It probably was published if this report is not getting the ‘attention it deserves’ by the people who wrote it and worked on it. Having said that, this is something that KINDA should be worked on, like….soon? Please?
I don’t even want to know all the bad reporting that will go on if this damn dam breaks that the MSM will just go bananas about.

Defector01 on October 30, 2007 at 2:03 PM

Par for the course for that part of the world. And they want to rule the world? I think the task of running the world is a little beyond their capacity.

saiga on October 30, 2007 at 1:58 PM

What he said.

They don’t invent anything, or refine or perfect anything invented by someone else.

Labamigo on October 30, 2007 at 2:10 PM

Well there goes the keeping it a secret from the terrorists!

Pulchritudinous Patriot on October 30, 2007 at 2:13 PM

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed

Editor on October 30, 2007 at 2:14 PM

Let the Iranians and the Chinese deal with your problems. After all, didn’t you, recently, give over $1 billion in construction contracts to them?

OhEssYouCowboys on October 30, 2007 at 2:15 PM

And the U.N. says?……what?…..nothing?…..no humanitarian effort prevent half-a mil drownings? Who woulda thunk it? Bet their ‘donation’ fund is already waiting in the wings to siphon off a little something for vacation homes.

Limerick on October 30, 2007 at 2:16 PM

I always thought that the dams in any country were the most vulnerable part of the country. Any enemy bent on destruction would already know that. I think if Al Qaeda wanted it busted, it would have been busted. A couple suicide truck bombs at the same time would do the trick at most dams in the world.

Destroy dams, bridges, and power grids and you grind any industrialized nation to a halt. unless they are on a sea port.

Scary indeed. They need to fix it.

ThackerAgency on October 30, 2007 at 2:16 PM

AP:The open question is why no one who knew how dire the situation is leaked it to force the public’s attention to it.

Actually, the story does indicate that someone in the Corps leaked details about it.

Portions of the draft report were read to The Washington Post by an Army Corps official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The Post also reviewed an Army Corps PowerPoint presentation on the dam.

CP on October 30, 2007 at 2:18 PM

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed

Editor on October 30, 2007 at 2:14 PM

The gears are turning, but I can’t for the life of me place it.

sweeper on October 30, 2007 at 2:31 PM

Editor on October 30, 2007 at 2:14 PM

Say Anything?

sweeper on October 30, 2007 at 2:31 PM

Okay, so can we get Halliburton in there to shore that thing up or what? This is really bad.

Kensington on October 30, 2007 at 2:34 PM

sweeper on October 30, 2007 at 2:31 PM

Say Anything!

thebrokenchair on October 30, 2007 at 2:34 PM

If that thing blows, it could cause serious political instability, if not full on chaos. We better have that thing guarded heavily, and be working on a temporary fix, now!

Bad Candy on October 30, 2007 at 2:37 PM

It’s more likely that they’re so worried that they didn’t want to tip their hand and make it a target for jihadists looking for another strike in the mold of the Samarra shrine bombing, but a thousand times more spectacular. How they’re going to deal with that problem now, only Petraeus knows.

Do you try to keep me up at night?

Theworldisnotenough on October 30, 2007 at 2:42 PM

While reading the information above, I was reminded of Louisiana and New Orleans. How, despite warnings by ACE, among others, of integrity issues over the levees, all levels of government in Louisiana ignored the warnings and relied more on luck that the levees would hold against Katrina. We know the result of that incompetence.

If ACE says something is unstable, I take their assessment. They have no political or financial stake in their judgment. It seems that the Maliki government is suffering from the same “fingers-crossed” hope that the damn retains its duties indefinitely.

If such a catastrophe were to occur, heaven forbid, the ramifications would be disastrous for the weak, democratic government. Especially since it is known the government has known about the damn since last year.

I wonder if the weakness in the Maliki government is partially due to the weak-kneed, risk aversion mentality that plagues both of our State Department and Pentagon.

Weebork on October 30, 2007 at 2:43 PM

oops, I just realized I spelled every “dam” with “damn”.

Heh.

Weebork on October 30, 2007 at 2:45 PM

Par for the course for that part of the world. And they want to rule the world? I think the task of running the world is a little beyond their capacity.

saiga on October 30, 2007 at 1:58 PM

If you die a Muslim, it’s okay. They’ll all be consoled by their 72 virgins and 28 young boys.

What’s the problem?

thejackal on October 30, 2007 at 2:46 PM

What would Spike Lee say about this?

Drtuddle on October 30, 2007 at 2:54 PM

Allah,

It’s been known for years that this thing was a ticking time bomb, the ACoE report and the leak to the WaPo notwithstanding. Engineers have been pumping thousands of tons of grout to keep the thing stabilized and the Iraqis knew that the dam was a problem from the outset.

The Corps own website had this to say about the project – and that apparently dates from September 2005 (more here). Note that it mentions the possibility of a catastrophic collapse if the work isn’t done. I’d say that they knew the seriousness of the situation even then. This report from May 2004 also points to the Corps working to keep the dam from failing.

This information was public knowledge going back to 2005, which is why I found it odd that they’re running this story again.

Meanwhile, back in 2005, there were Democrats who pointed out the Mosul dam project in the course of demanding parity for domestic funding on infrastructure with foreign aid (in relation to Katrina and the levees).

Repairs and band aids will not fix this dam. It needs replacement with a structure that is sound. In the meantime, slowly dropping the level of the reservoir to relieve pressure on the dam.

lawhawk on October 30, 2007 at 3:00 PM

Note that it mentions the possibility of a catastrophic collapse if the work isn’t done. I’d say that they knew the seriousness of the situation even then.

But the work hasn’t been done. Two more years of weakening and it’s still not fixed. That’s the story.

Allahpundit on October 30, 2007 at 3:03 PM

Maybe the dam is fixed and this “leak” or release is to gather up the remaining Jihadis in the area to focus on a target. When they strike, we clean up. Just a thought.

DrM2B on October 30, 2007 at 3:12 PM

Allah – the only thing that will fix this dam is to tear it down and start from scratch.

It is fatally flawed by being built over a layer of gypsum that is water soluble – they’ve been grouting the thing for decades to keep the water at bay. All they keep doing is putting patches on it, and unless someone is coming up with a couple billion dollars to build a new one, they’re going to need to keep pumping in grout to stabilize it. Either that or tear it down (costing millions more – and losing a hydro plant and reservoir in the process).

Further, the Corps report thinks that the level of risk is higher than the Iraqis claim it is. I think that’s also a reaction to what happened after the Corps failure with the levees in Katrina (they failed without overtopping as they claimed).

lawhawk on October 30, 2007 at 3:18 PM

Am I missing something here? Why don’t they open the gates and drain the water behind the dam? That will reduce the stress and greatly diminish the possible damage if (when) it does fail.

And of course, now that it’s out in the open, all it would take is one mental-defective with an RPG to cause a serious amount of grief for all concerned.

Timothy S. Carlson on October 30, 2007 at 3:18 PM

Colin Powell suggested in 1991 that the dams could be hit with an air strike if Saddam used chemical weapons (yes, he did have them at one point).

RobCon on October 30, 2007 at 3:30 PM

Since the Iraqis aren’t fixing the problem and seem to be waiting for the US to do something and if the worst does happen, suppose
Plausible Deniability wouldn’t help.

Kini on October 30, 2007 at 3:36 PM

The Army Corps has recommended building a second dam downstream as a fail-safe measure, but Iraqi officials have rejected the proposal, arguing that it is unnecessary and too expensive.

I suppose the Iraqi officials would prefer a series of pumps and levees…I hear the Corps is good at building that sort of thing.

James on October 30, 2007 at 3:57 PM

Number 1, get our troops out of the way. Two, give Mosul to Bin Laden and help him move in.

csdeven on October 30, 2007 at 4:10 PM

I suppose the Iraqi officials would prefer a series of pumps and levees…I hear the Corps is good at building that sort of thing.

James on October 30, 2007 at 3:57 PM

But, it hasta be several feet below sea-level. If it doesn’t reach the level of utterly ridiculous and pathetic, the United States can’t get involved.

OhEssYouCowboys on October 30, 2007 at 4:12 PM

It’s not the U.S.’s fault

Yea? Let it fail – gypsum or explosives – and 99% of the coverage will include some version of “If Bush hadn’t…”

eeyore on October 30, 2007 at 4:15 PM

Dams are great strategic targets, China has a doozy of a dam.

What can go wrong will go wrong.
‘Murphy’

TheSitRep on October 30, 2007 at 4:37 PM

It gets better: Upriver, leaky mega-dam. Downriver, man-eating sharks!

Cuffy Meigs on October 30, 2007 at 4:49 PM

a 65-foot wall of water set to descend on Mosul

F’in A

Justice at last

Ochlan on October 30, 2007 at 5:17 PM

I worked contracts on this damn the first year of the invasion. Back then we had to order a specific type of concrete for the Iraqis so that they could use it to stabalize the bottom. It’s a pretty impressive dam, the homes up there look almost like tiny german villages.

yankeegohome on October 30, 2007 at 5:19 PM

So the only thing standing between trillions of gallons of rushing water and half a million Iraqis is some sheetrock and a bunch of Keebler elves with a load of grout?

Ok, come on out Ashton Kutcher! We’ve been PUNKED!

Katrina may well have cost the Republicans control of Congress and New Orleans was run by Democratic Mayor (Mr. Chocolate City) Ray Nagin and Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco. If Mosul Dam goes and the body count is well into six figures, the Republicans might as well bend over and kiss their asses goodbye forever.

If I were Nancy (Pelosi) and Harry (Reid), I’d be on the phone booking a trip to Mosul while I sharpened my fingernails.

Well now I guess the drop in violence is beginning to make sense. Mookie, et al, are just hanging back long enough to re-populate the cities for maximum a body count. Then he’ll just huff and he’ll puff and he’ll blow the dam down.

HELP! CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME HOW TO CREATE A NEW PARAGRAPH HERE?

NightmareOnKStreet on October 30, 2007 at 5:27 PM

Yeah, I don’t understand why the feds would publish this report. It’s bizarre.

Allahpundit on October 30, 2007 at 1:59 PM

So if the Dems turn down the money the Prez is asking for he can say that they want to drown women, kids, and children in the middle of the night.

- The Cat

MirCat on October 30, 2007 at 5:38 PM

…the homes up there look almost like tiny german villages Johnstown, PA.
yankeegohome on October 30, 2007 at 5:19 PM

unfortunately, likely fixed

eeyore on October 30, 2007 at 5:50 PM

George Bush hates Mosulites.

SouthernGent on October 30, 2007 at 6:13 PM

F’in A

Justice at last

Ochlan on October 30, 2007 at 5:17 PM

Are you doing your best to impersonate what you think a ‘neocon’ would say?

BadgerHawk on October 30, 2007 at 6:14 PM

Predictably, everyone here at the Hot Air echo chamber is missing an obvious point. To wit:

*Saddam built a faulty dam.
*Dam, if collapses, could kill as many as 500,000 people.
*If the US had not invaded Iraq in 2003, in all likelihood, Saddam’s kleptocracy would never have addressed the problem.

THEREFORE:

If (the operative word) the Coalition gets off its collective butts and fixes the problem now, we will be responsible for saving 500,000 lives.

DubiousD on October 30, 2007 at 8:38 PM

Can someone tell me where the US forces are in relation to this dam? My brother is headed to Mosul any day.

kongzilla on October 30, 2007 at 9:51 PM

Does this dam have a gate that can be opened to, you know, gradually lower the water level, both reducing the pressure on the dam and the damage that would be caused if it breaks?

I’m having some deja-vu here.. I grew up down the block from a historic church that was ironically moved from its original location in what is now the huge Tuttle Creek Lake, so it would be saved from the waters that would fill the lake. The dam is near the Humboldt Fault. If an earthquake hits, and the dam fails, a hellacious wall of water will wipe out the house I grew up in. The people who live there now might have time to run up the hill to safety if that happens.

Have I mentioned lately that I now live near the top of a hill?

The Monster on October 31, 2007 at 12:06 AM

Quick, call FEMA

Captain America on October 31, 2007 at 8:29 AM