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ISIS May Not Be the Biggest Problem Iraq is Facing Today…

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By Ronald Bennett

Since 2014 when remnants of Al-Qai’da and other extremist factions resurfaced as the Islamic State, or ISIS, they have seized the spotlight in the media.  Their violence and atrocities are unparalleled, so much so that they have even received push back from core al-Qai’da members citing their violence as too extreme.  Their ability to capture land and money in dramatic fashion catapulted them to a new level of evil, sparking the need for ongoing efforts to eradicate the region of their oppressive reign.  Still, despite how horrible the group may be, a major issue in the region that nobody is talking about, and could have a more lasting impact, is the Mosul Dam.

Let me caveat these statements by stating that I am a former intelligence officer in the region, not a structural engineer.  However, I have spoken to several and know the grave concern among engineers, policy makers and officials in the intelligence and military communities.  In fact, one geological expert stated, “it’s not a matter of if, but when the dam collapses,” a sentiment that many share.

The dam was built in the 1980’s by Saddam Hussein and structure remains intact today, albeit just barely. However, unlike many dams around the world, it is constructed out of soft gypsum rock, which is eroding by the second.  The process to maintain such a structure requires grouting, the daily pouring of concrete to shore up the footers, something that has not been done consistently for years due to funding and security issues.

…it’s not a matter of if, but when the dam collapses…

Why does this matter? The result:  Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, would meet what experts estimate would be a 50-70 foot wall of water in minutes, wiping out the population and cascading problems into the rest of the country.  It is estimated that the water would reach Baghdad, nearly 300 miles south of Mosul, in a matter of days, flooding parts with several feet of water. Over 1 million Iraqis would likely perish in the event, but this biblical scaled wave of water would only be part of the problem.  The disease that would trek its way down the water from Mosul to its end destination would be monumental with waste, debris and deceased bodies littering the region.   Furthermore, the displacement of families from their homes and the medical emergency that would stem from such an incident would make the current refugee crisis in Syria, while significant, seem like a walk in the park.

This is not intended to spark fear, but rather bring awareness to a large scale problem that is known within the region, but rarely discussed outside.

Iraq has awarded multi-million dollar contracts to begin repairs and regular maintenance on the dam. Our hope is that the maintenance will take effect sooner than later staving off a disaster and that no foul play will occur with ISIS nearing the end of its reign in Mosul.

Ronald Bennett is a Senior OpsLens Contributor and former Air Force veteran. Following his time in the Air Force, Bennett performed more than thirty deployments to the Middle East in order to perform covert action and counterterrorism operations for the United States Intelligence Community.

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