The Mosul Dam is one element of Iraq’s infrastructure that has survived the war so far, but which is apparently seriously threatened. Because was built on gypsum, which dissolves in water, it threatens to fail catastrophically as the result of small initial problems. A report from the US Army Corps of Engineers warned that the dam’s failure would drown Mosul under nearly 20m of water and parts of Baghdad under 4.5m. The 2006 report explained that:
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.
According to the BBC, the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) has stated that the dam’s foundations could give away at any moment. The report from the Corps of Engineers states that the dam’s failure could cause 500,000 civilian deaths. General David Petraeus and the American Ambassador to Iraq have both written to the Iraqi government expressing their severe concern.
The dam is 2,100m across and contains 12 billion cubic metres of water. It generates about 320 MW of electricity. Previous attempts at addressing the gypsum issue seem to have been botched. According to the Washington Post “little of the reconstruction effort led by the U.S. Embassy has succeeded in improving the dam.” Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general reviewing the efforts has said that “[t]he expenditures of the money have yielded no benefit yet.”
Today, the Iraq government has officially stated that concerns about a possible collapse are misplaced and that the dam is constantly monitored. Ongoing actions include reducing the amount of water in the reservoir and pumping grout into the foundation (a liquefied mixture of cement and other additives). Work is meant to begin next year on wrapping the foundations in concrete to make them more secure.
Obviously, a catastrophic dam collapse is the last thing Iraq needs. Hopefully, the dam will hold until a sensible refit can be carried out, and it will not find any wayward coalition munitions or insurgent bombs helping it towards disintegration.