Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Mosul Dam: Keep an Eye on This

"The Mosul Dam is in good condition and it is not in danger," is what Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraq government spokesman, said in a statement. "This dam is under constant observation by the Iraqi government and all precautionary measures and needed maintenance are being taken."

Most of the time, I admire a positive attitude.

This isn't one of those times.

The Mosul Dam is one of Iraq's landmarks, and the largest dam in Iraq. It holds back eight billion cubic meters of the Tigris River's water (about 10.4 billion cubic yards). That's a lot of water. The Mosul Dam is also the site of a major hydroelectric power plant: which makes it very important in a power-starved Iraq.

Here's a timeline:
  • 1979: Saddam Hussein becomes Iraqi president
  • 1980: Iran-Iraq War begins
  • 1980: Mosul Dam construction
    • 1980: begins
    • 1984: ends
  • 1988: Iran-Iraq War ends
  • 1991: Persian Gulf War
  • 2003: War on Terror removes Saddam Hussein from power
Saddam's regime put the two-mile-long, earthfill, Mosul dam on land that's made of
  • Marls
  • Soluble gypsum
  • Anhydrite
  • Karstic limestone
The mix is constantly dissolving, according to a specialist at a U.S. embassy in Iraq.

The US embassy's statement says: "To manage the risk, the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources has been conducting continuous grouting operations to fill voids and fractures created by the dissolution of the foundation since the 1980s."

The Independent (UK) quoted "one source," saying that if water levels behind the Mosul Dam stay where they are, there's a "reasonably high" chance of an immediate failure, and that failure is "most certain" within the next few years.

Briefly, the situation is:
  • Saddam Hussein's regime built a earthfill dam on dissolving rock
  • Iraqi engineers have been patching it ever since
  • Engineers have determined that the dam, as it stands, is doomed
  • The Iraqi government says it isn't
I'm reminded of discussions between engineers and management types, before the shuttle Challenger blew up.

If the Mosul Dam breaks, Mosul is in trouble. The city is 20 miles downstream from the dam. When the flood reaches that city of 1.7 million people, odds are that 70% of the city will be destroyed.

By the time the flood reaches Baghdad, it shouldn't be quite so much of a problem.

As I said before, I approve of a positive attitude. But not when there's a disolving dam upstream from a major city.

I can understand the Iraqi government's attitude. They're in the unenviable position of trying to put Iraq back together, after over three decades of daft planning and negligible maintenance. From a Public Relations point of view, at this moment the last thing the Iraqi national government needs is to admit that there's one more foul-up to fix.

I hope that someone over there looks at long-range consequences, and has a plan for dealing with an earthfill dam that's losing ground.

Why that title, "The Mosul Dam: Keep an Eye on This?"

Although I hope this doesn't happen, there's a good chance that the Mosul Dam will fail, catastrophically, sometime between now and a few years from now.

When/if that happens, I expect that America will be blamed. There's a sort of foreshadowing of this in the words of an unidentified aid, quoted in The Independent: "Everybody knows about the threat but they have other preoccupations and, in the case of foreigners, it is now conveniently in Iraqi hands."

After all, it was American engineers were among those who said that the dam's foundations were dissolving.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.