I'm Right Again Dot Com 

A new commentary every Wednesday        January 4, 2017


    According to Azram Alwash, an Iraqi-American civil engineer, the immediate indication that the three hundred and seventy feet high pillar of concrete on the Tigris river, 25 Miles north of Mosul in northern Iraq, has collapsed, will be that all lights will suddenly go out in Mosul. 

  In less than an hour, the second largest city in Iraq, now being fought over by a coalition of Iraqi and Kurdish troops assisted by "more than a thousand" American advisors versus Daesh (Islamic State fighters) who remain, and perhaps a million civilians still trapped there, will be inundated by a wall of water. If my headline has any truth to it, they would be only a fraction of the number of potential victims of a human-error-caused disaster of epic proportions  

    When I first began to read a report in the January 2, 2017 edition of New Yorker magazine by Dexter Filkins, winner of THE National Book Critics Circle Award for authoring a book titled "The Forever War," I had to wonder if the story was "Fake News" or there had to be a reason for our military and media to have so little to say about so profound a threat: the drowning of millions of people, most of whom would be Iraqi civilians now inhabiting the Euphrates valley.

    The remainder of the potential victims: Tens of thousands of troops in two armies, including several thousand US special forces "advisors" embedded with the Iraqi military. There are 5,000 Americans still in Iraq, but I can find no published data on how many are in Mosul, as I write this.  

    My initial reaction was that this threat cannot be true. I pray that this may be a "Sky is Falling, Chicken Little" panic on my part.

    Here's what I've found out about dam failures: They happen often and most of the time with little warning. The worst one in the past century was a failure of the  Banquio Dam on the Ru reiver in Henan Province, China in 1975 that took 17,000 lives. A collapse of a dam as recent as 1972 drowned 125 persons downstream of the Buffalo Creek dam in Logan County, West Virginia. The worst ever to occur in the United States was the Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania. When a dam broke there in 1889, two thousand, two hundred twenty-two people drowned. These are only a handful of many failures of dams, worldwide, in the preceding century. 

    Here's what provoked the headline for this article. According to engineer Azram Alwash, when Saddam Hussein ordered the dam to be built on the Tigris in 1981-1984, Iraqi engineers picked the very worst place for it to be constructed: upon a foundation composed partially of limestone  and gypsum, the latter of which dissolves when in contact with water. In other words, the foundation of the Mosul dam is soluble. Chemical analysis downstream indicates that the deletion of the gypsum is increasing. One side of the structure has subsided just a fraction of an inch more than the rest of the dam.

    Hardly had the generators been installed before it was discovered that huge voids were beginning to appear underneath the dam. The cure was to bore holes around the base of the dam and pump thousands of tons of cement...a grout, down them, constantly.  

    It's only a guess, but chances are great that no one reported the monstrous engineering mistake to Hussein. The grouting solution seemed to be working. The center for producing the concrete necessary for producing the grout was in Mosul...again, only 25 miles away.

    Then along came the thousands of Islamic State crazies, who took over Mosul and the dam in 2014. The Iraqi army fled. The grouting process was interrupted for 18 months. Finally, the Kurds recaptured the dam and got four of the eleven grouting machines going again. It remains to be seen if the voids now found underneath the dam will hold, even if filled with grout.

    Despite all warnings from engineers attached to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq's leaders have refused to acknowledge the extent of the danger says Author Filkins. "In November of 2015, Mohsen al-Shammari, Iraqi Minister of Water Resources, told reporters 'there was no chance the dam will collapse.'"

    If he is wrong, a reservoir eight miles long and two miles wide holding eleven million cubic meters of water will burst upon Mosul like a tsunami and a colossal wave will push people and debris from a dozen towns and villages in the Euphrates valley all the way into Baghdad, 251 miles away... and beyond.

    Southern Iraq, especially the Basra area, has been prone to flooding since the dawn of civilization. 

    Again, I know so little of the topic, I cannot claim to know the solution—if there is one, but it seems imperative to retake Mosul, if for no other  reason than to re-establish the grout works, and also replace the seven broken pumps that help force the cement mixture into the base of the dam.

    Filkins also spoke of one of the two gates on the spillway of the dam being jammed shut. Opening it by whatever means may begin to help release some of the pressure and forestall the deluge—for a while.  As I read it, the question is not so much whether the dam will collapse or not, but when.

-Phil Richardson, Observer of the human condition and storyteller. "He goes doddering on into his old age, making a public nuisance of himself." - Joseph L. Mencken


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