Italians try to stem impending Iraqi dam calamity

Advance team of Italian engineering firm begins desperate attempts to stop Mosul Dam from collapsing and killing up to 1.5 million people.

Ari Yashar ,

Mosul Dam in Iraq
Mosul Dam in Iraq

In response to fears that Mosul Dam in northern Iraq could collapse and wreak chaos on a catastrophic scale, a team of Italian technicians arrived at the facility on Thursday for desperate attempts to prevent it from failing.

The advance team from Trevi Group, an Italian engineering firm, arrived ahead of other engineers set to arrive in the coming weeks, reports The New Arab.

According to US estimates, up to 1.5 million could die in the massive tidal wave caused if the dam collapses.

Riyadh Izeddin, director of the Mosul Dam, said that aside from their maintenance and repair work the Italian crews are to install advanced technology and train Iraqi staff to operate it.

A collapse of the dam may be imminent, as an Iraqi official previously told The New Arab that "Iraq is on the brink of a massive humanitarian and environmental disaster because of the dam. It could collapse as soon as April because at that time of year it will be under pressure from rain and thawing snow."

Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein built the 113-meter-high dam in 1985, and it was largely seen as a vanity project because it was built on an unstable gypsum foundation that is continuously eroded by water.

A lapse in required maintenance after the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group briefly seized it in 2014 weakened the already flawed structure, and now large cavities have formed in the foundations.

In preparation, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi back in late February warned all residents of Mosul to move at least six kilometers (3.7 miles) from the Tigris River's banks.

US estimates predict the dam's collapse could cause a 25-meter high inland tsunami - to give a scale of the potential devastation, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which was one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history had a height of around 30 meters.

Researchers in a Swedish university simulated the dam's collapse according to a Foreign Policy report, predicting that within four hours Mosul would be battered by an 80-foot high wave of water, covering 28 square miles.

Within 22 hours a 50-foot water wall would cascade on Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, and within two days the center of Bahdad - located 400 miles downriver from the dam - would be flooded in 13 feet of water with flooding covering over 80 square miles around the capital.