Be Very Damn Careful With That Dam!

Yesterday, Fox News reported that the US planned further air strikes against the IS forces in northern Iraq, some of which were specifically to help Iraq regain control of Iraq’s largest dam which fell into IS hands a month ago. This morning another Fox News story reported that Kurdish forces have reportedly launched a ground offensive to seize control of Iraq’s strategic Mosul dam from Islamic militants.

Upon reading the Fox article last night, I was reminded of a piece I’d read several days ago at Zero Hedge on the Mosul dam. This dam is a disaster waiting to happen. The following quotes were taken out of order from the Zero Hedge article:

First, some background:

The Mosel dam is the fourth largest in terms of reservoir capacity in the Middle East with a capacity of 3 trillion gallons or 11.1 billion cubic meters.  It is a key component of Iraq’s power grid and source of water for irrigation.  It is located 31 miles north of the city of Mosul whose population is 1.7 million and 200 miles north of Bagdad.  A dam collapse would release the 360 feet high waterline and reach Mosul in 2 hours.


Since the dam was completed in the mid-1980’s it has required continuous (daily) maintenance, because it was built on top of gypsum, a soft mineral which dissolves when in contact with water. More than 50,000 tons of materials have been injected into the dam since 1986. The ‘sink hole’ type of cavities that constantly form have to be expeditiously plugged with “grout”, a liquefied mixture of cement and other additives.

A dam break does not require sabotage.  Maintenance failure has the same result.

Of course, no one believes that the IS has been doing any maintenance of the dam since it came under their control. That the IS might sabotage the dam has been very much on the minds of US commanders as it was years earlier when the US invaded Iraq.

When the US coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003, military intelligence developed invasion scenarios.  One scenario included Iraqi forces placing detonation charges at the vitally important dam.  If US forces were able to safely secure the dam, then they had a contingency plan to operate it and ensure critically important maintenance.  The US quickly discovered the necessity for $27 million worth of frantically urgent repairs.

Here is what the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) had to say:

In December of 2006, the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) detailed a comprehensive report on the dam’s structure.  The report called it, “the most dangerous dam in the world”, stating that even water pressure could buckle the flimsy foundation.


A USACE official wrote a report in 2011 that was published in Water Power magazine estimating that dam failure could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths.

General Petraeus had serious concerns in 2007:

In 2007, General Petraeus wrote a letter to the Iraqi PM warning of the safety concerns in the report and the consequences should the dam fail.  In paraphrasing the USACE report, his letter said that “despite continuous grouting… the safety of the dam cannot be assured”.   He went on to say that “…an instantaneous failure….could result in a flood wave 65 feet deep at the city of Mosul… and produce flooding all the way to Baghdad”.

So, the Kurds are sending ground forces and the US is planning air strikes to regain control of the Mosul Dam. What could possibly go wrong? A lot! 

  • The dam could fail at any time due to lack of continued grouting of the unstable gypsum formation underneath the dam.
  • Shockwaves from military ordinance detonated miles away could liquify gypsum formation under the dam.
  • The IS are irrational barbarians. They could easily plant explosive charges at key points on or near the dam and wait for the air strikes to begin and then set off the charges remotely. Guess who would get blamed for the hundreds of thousands of deaths?

Yes, the Kurds and the US military need to be very damn careful with that dam!

Well, that’s what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?







4 thoughts on “Be Very Damn Careful With That Dam!

  1. Fox had done a long report on this. How in the world we could have ever let this come to pass,well, I guess we know don’t we. Leading from behind works swell.

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