Nightmare scenario: Assault on Mosul could trigger dam disaster, 40-foot wave of death

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Any missteps in Iraq’s attempt to retake Mosul from Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISL) could result in a “nightmare scenario” in which the unstable Mosul Dam collapses and unleashes a 40-foot wave of death.

“If the dam busts, the center of Mosul goes under water by about a 40-50 foot wave,” an adviser to the Iraqi prime minister’s office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Employees work at strengthening the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq on Feb. 3. /Reuters
Employees work at strengthening the Mosul Dam in northern Iraq on Feb. 3. /Reuters

“It just disappears, so 500,000 people (are) killed within a few hours,” he said.

The Iraqi army is reportedly in the process of deploying thousands of soldiers to a northern base in preparation for an assault on ISIL forces in Mosul.

The offensive would be supported by U.S. air strikes and the adviser said any bombing campaign in the area could impact the dam which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said earlier this week was “at a significantly higher risk of failure than originally understood.”

“They (U.S. forces) are worried about it, they are thinking carefully about what kind of munitions they use in the Mosul operation,” the adviser said.

Concerns are also growing that ISIL, fearing the loss of its largest base of operations in Iraq, could weaponize the dam.

“If the attack on Mosul goes well, there is a nightmare scenario that Daesh (an Arabic acronym for ISIL) could itself strike the dam as they withdraw from Mosul,” the adviser said.

He said another dam in Samarra, hundreds of miles downstream, would also burst if the Mosul Dam collapses. He estimated the wave would be several meters high when it reaches Baghdad.

The Americans “frequently refer to (hurricane) Katrina” and say a collapse of the Mosul Dam would be “a thousand times worse,” the adviser said.

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