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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 16 August 2018

Time to prevent a flood in Iraq

With Iraqi forces ready to remove ISIL from Mosul, attention must turn to the city’s dam
The Mosul dam was built by Saddam Hussein in 1986 in a manner than requires constant maintenance to ensure its structural integrity.   Florian Neuhof / The National
The Mosul dam was built by Saddam Hussein in 1986 in a manner than requires constant maintenance to ensure its structural integrity. Florian Neuhof / The National

For several months, the strength of the Mosul dam in northern Iraq has been in question. The dam secures more than 11 billion cubic metres of water. If it were to burst, the city of Mosul would be submerged within four hours. In a matter of days, the water would reach Baghdad and up to one million people could be dead.

The Mosul dam was built by Saddam Hussein in 1986 in a way that requires constant maintenance to ensure its structural integrity. When ISIL took the city in 2014, they looted most of the equipment necessary to maintain the dam. Kurdish peshmerga now control the site but they are woefully under-equipped to carry out the necessary maintenance. After all, they are still on the front lines battling ISIL.

This is a humanitarian crisis in the making. This month, the US embassy in Baghdad warned that the risk of the dam failing is “serious and unprecedented”. If the dam breaks, it could take decades for Iraq to recover.

With the Iraqi army preparing to retake Mosul from ISIL, securing the dam is as much a priority as eliminating the militants. The prospect of a 14-metre-high wall of water drowning cities in Iraq constitutes a clear and present danger to the safety not just of Iraq but the region as a whole.

That the Mosul dam has reached this stage is further evidence of the complete disregard that ISIL has for human life. The militants have tried to argue that they are creating a state and they often gloat about the welfare systems they have put in place for people under their control. But the looting of dam equipment is evidence of how they really feel about the Iraqi people.

The Iraqi government has announced plans to reinforce the dam with the help of Italian contractors. Baghdad has also assigned 450 troops to protect the dam site, but more is needed. This is not the time for hesitation or shifting responsibility. Repairing and maintaining the Mosul dam is a matter of life and death.

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