Suddenly, the Most Important Dam in the World

by Jim Geraghty

See this dam?

That is the Mosul Dam, “a gargantuan, poorly-constructed dam in Iraq that, if breached, could launch a 65-foot-tall wall of water into one of the country’s largest cities and send flood waters all the way to Baghdad.”

Baghdad is 220 miles away — akin to blowing up a dam in Boston and flooding New York City.

And now ISIS controls it, according to Kurdish authorities: “Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of the president of the Kurdistan region, confirmed on Friday that Islamic State militants had seized control of Iraq’s biggest dam in their latest offensive in the north of the country.”

Back in 2007, U.S. engineers warned about the dam’s poor conditions and the risk of failure: 

“A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris river all the way to Baghdad,” the US military commander General David Petraeus and the US ambassador Ryan Crocker warned the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, in a letter on 3 May this year. “Assuming a worst-case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave 20m deep at the city of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of life and property.”

At that time, the death toll of a catastrophic failure was estimated to reach a half-million people.