The Mosul Dam near an Islamic State stronghold in Iraq faces a catastrophic risk as it stands on unstable ground where soft gypsum rock is constantly eroding. If a breach occurs as warned by a US report, over a million Iraqis living along the Tigris River will be wiped out. IS dismisses this warning as mere propaganda to scare them off even as US military is planning an offensive in early October to recapture the northern Nineveh province from IS, with a final battle in Mosul at month-end. History may repeat. Just like Tigris floods destroyed the Assyrian capital Nineveh in 612 BC helping the Medes and Babylonians to victory, dam breach may trigger a flood that will overwhelm IS and make the job much easier for US-backed Iraqi and Kurdish forces.  

In a 2006 report, the US Army Corps of Engineers called Mosul Dam “the most dangerous dam in the world”, and the situation has deteriorated since then.

In Mach 2016, CENTCOM Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin III and US Embassy in Baghdad both warned the dam is on the verge of collapse, and as many as 500,000 to 1.47 million Iraqis living along the Tigris River could be swept away by a tsunami estimated to be up to 70 feet high within hours. They urged everyone to implement an evacuation plan and to move at least 3 miles to 4 miles away from the banks.[1]

However, there is one problem. The dam sits a few miles upstream from Mosul that is under Islamic State (IS) control, and the Iraqi government is unable to inform or coordinate evacuation plans with the population there.  In fact IS took control of Mosul Dam in 2014 for a few weeks before it was wrested back by Kurdish forces.

Dam’s weak foundation

Standing 2 miles long and 371 feet high, the Mosul Dam was built on the Tigris River in the early 1980s on unstable ground, where soft gypsum rock is constantly eroding. From the day it was inaugurated, maintenance crews have had to continuously pour 2 tons of cement daily under its foundation, called “grouting”, to solidify its foundations.[2]

However, after IS briefly overran the dam in 2014, maintenance work has fallen, in part because IS still controls the nearby factory that produces the concrete for the dam.[4]

Even worse, one of the two sluice gates used to ease water pressure is jammed shut, which is dangerous when water level rises due to melting snow or sudden rainstorms.

Nadhir al-Ansari, an Iraqi engineer from when the dam was built, said a second structure — Badush dam — was started 20 km downstream to prevent a catastrophe in the event of the Mosul dam’s failure.  However, work halted in the 1990s when US/UN imposed sanctions on Iraq, leaving it only 40% complete.[5]

Now, the Iraqi government has signed a $296 million contract with Italy’s Trevi group to repair and maintain the dam. Italy plans to send 450 troops to protect the dam site from IS before any work can commence, though it is unclear how long the whole process may actually take, or if it may be completed before an actual breach of the wall.

In the meantime, IS is dismissing these warnings as US propaganda to scare them off. They’ve dug in their heels in Mosul to solidify their caliphate, even opening a 5-star luxury hotel reserved for IS commanders from nearby provinces and for jihadi fighters’ weddings.[6]

The 5-star Ninawa International Hotel in Mosul is reserved for IS commanders from nearby provinces and for jihadi fighters’ weddings

Formerly known as the Ninawa International Hotel, the 262-room accommodation boasted a stunning view of the Tigris River and received excellent reviews in TripAdvisor before it fell to IS.

As such, the IS hotel and IS headquarter in Mosul City would be in the frontlines to face the unfurling of the 70 foot tsunami wave should a breach occur in the dam’s walls.

They also face a second front — the upcoming Mosul offensive by US, Kurdish and Iraqi forces.

Mosul offensive plan

 Currently, the military offensive is tentatively scheduled in early October to recapture the northern Nineveh province from IS, with a final battle in Mosul at the end of October.[7]

However, some US officers in Baghdad are wary, believing the Obama administration is rushing plans for the offensive to take place before the November presidential elections.[8]

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Barbero said his contacts in Baghdad fear an “artificial timeline” for a rushed operation, in what is a monumental task of capturing a city of almost 2 million citizens and up to 10,000 IS fighters and their booby traps.

Nonetheless, an offensive less than three months from now would help Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton dispute Republican charges that the Obama administration is soft on IS.

Unless the dam breaches and floods IS before the US’ planned October surprise.

After all, Mosul is the former capital Nineveh in the Assyrian empire, which in 612 BC was destroyed when a sudden flood from the Tigris River breached the city wall, helping to lead the Medes and Babylonians to victory. The prophet Nahum at that time actually predicted, “but with an overwhelming flood, he will make a complete end of Nineveh” and “the gates of the rivers are opened, and the palace is dissolved.”[9]

Now if the gates of Mosul Dam were opened/breached to unleash the flood, certainly IS in Nineveh would be dissolved. If not, they would be flooded with another wave of the Medes (Kurds) and Babylonian (Iraqi) armies in the Mosul offensive. Either way, it seems IS is facing dark days ahead.


[2] ;

[3]; Julian Borger, “Mosul dam engineers warn it could fail at any time, killing 1m people”, The Guardian, March 2, 2016,

[4] “Fears grow about Mosul Dam catastrophe”, CBS News, March 9, 2016,


[6];  “ISIS opens 262-room luxury hotel in Mosul”, The Independent, May 6, 2015,

[7] Mark Perry, “Get ready for Obama’s ‘October Surprise’ in Iraq”, Politico, August 1, 2016,

[8] Rowan Scarborough, “Troops fear Obama rushing Mosul offensive to influence election”, Washington Times, July 24, 2016,


Dr. Christina Lin is a Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University where she specializes in China-Middle East/Mediterranean relations, and a research consultant for Jane’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Intelligence Centre at IHS Jane’s.

(Copyright 2016 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

Christina Lin

Christina Lin is a US-based foreign policy analyst. She has extensive government experience working on US national security and economic issues and was a CBRN research consultant for Jane's Information Group.

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