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Report: Bush to bring a second Katrina to Iraq, killing thousands, if "most dangerous" Mosul dam breaks

WaPo A01:

The largest dam in Iraq is in serious danger of an imminent collapse that could unleash a trillion-gallon wave of water, possibly killing thousands of people and flooding two of the largest cities in the country, according to new assessments by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other U.S. officials.

Well, let's look on the bright side! We can give the "reconstruction" work to Halliburton, and have Blackwater guard the ruins! Plus, imagine the photo ops!

Even in a country gripped by daily bloodshed, the possibility of a catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam has alarmed American officials, who have concluded that it could lead to as many as 500,000 civilian deaths by drowning Mosul under 65 feet of water and parts of Baghdad under 15 feet, said Abdulkhalik Thanoon Ayoub, the dam manager. "The Mosul dam is judged to have an unacceptable annual failure probability," in the dry wording of an Army Corps of Engineers draft report.

"In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world," the Army Corps concluded in September 2006, according to the report to be released Tuesday. "If a small problem [at] Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely."

My goodness! Why is that? Three guesses:

At the same time, a U.S. reconstruction project to help shore up the dam in northern Iraq has been marred by incompetence and mismanagement, according to Iraqi officials and a report by a U.S. oversight agency to be released Tuesday. The reconstruction project, worth at least $27 million, was not intended to be a permanent solution to the dam's deficiencies.

But Condi's State Department is in charge! What could go wrong?

In the report to be released Tuesday, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, a federal oversight agency, found that little of the reconstruction effort led by the U.S. Embassy has succeeded in improving the dam. The office reviewed contracts worth $27 million, but an embassy official said the total cost of the project was $34 million.

The review found that a Turkish company, which was paid $635,000 for a contract awarded 19 months ago to build storage silos for cement, had done so little and such poor-quality work that its project may have to be restarted. One company contracted to design grout-mixing plants instead submitted plans for unusable concrete-mixing plants. High-tech equipment meant to help grouting is gathering dust because it won't work, according to investigators.

Embassy and Army Corps officials noted that it has been difficult to conduct oversight of the project because it is in a dangerous area. They said that contracts with the worst businesses have been terminated and that steps have been taken to ensure better management of the project in the future.

"Our focus is on whether the project that the Corps undertook got carried out and the answer to that question is no," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general. "The expenditures of the money have yielded no benefit yet."

We spend a billion dollars building an embassy with slave labor, whose sprinkler system doesn't work, and can't get it together to spend $27 million shoring up an Iraqi dam?

Now, things get really interesting when you look at the ground truth of the dam:

Sitting in a picturesque valley 45 miles along the Tigris River north of Mosul, the earthen dam has one fundamental problem: It was built on top of gypsum, which dissolves when it comes into contact with water.

Almost immediately after the dam was completed in the early 1980s, engineers began injecting the dam with grout, a liquefied mixture of cement and other additives. More than 50,000 tons of material have been pumped into the dam since then in a continual effort to prevent the structure, which can hold up to 3 trillion gallons of water, from collapsing.

Seepage from the dam funnels into a gushing stream of water that engineers monitor to determine the severity of the leakage. Twenty-four clanging machines churn 24 hours a day to pump grout deep into the dam's base. And sinkholes form periodically as the gypsum dissolves beneath the structure.

Reminds me very much of New Orleans: A fundamentally unstable flooding situation kept in balance by constant human effort, with catastrophic failure a constant concern. Now, to be fair, the Iraqis believe the dam is safe, and we've got an awful track record with Iraqi projects:

Ayoub said he agrees that the most catastrophic collapse of the dam could kill 500,000 people, but he said U.S. officials have not convinced him that the structure is at high risk of collapse. "The Americans may very well be right about the danger," Ayoub said. "I think it is safe enough that my office is in the flood plain."

In an interview Monday night, Abdul Latif Rashid, Iraq's minister of water resources, said that he believed the safety situation was not critical and that he was more inclined to trust his engineers than American reports.

"Is the dam going to collapse tomorrow?" Rashid said. "I can't tell you that. Let us hope that we avoid a disaster and focus now on a solution."

You know, given Bush's track record in Iraq--who else remembers the Police Academy that rained urine and feces on the students--I'm inclined to believe the Iraqis. But who knows what's happening?

Various possibilities, none of them making us look good:

1. The Iraqis are right, and no new dam is needed. We all know the Corps of Engineers loves to build dams, needed or not, and it's just business as usual for them in a war zone, like everyone else.

2. The United States is right, and a new dam is needed. In this case, the Iraqis don't know enough to understand their own infrastructure. Did all the hydrological engineers flee the country, along with the rest of middle class? Or worse: Mosul is Sunni, but the Kurds are downstream. Is the dam some sort of ethnic cleansing wunderwaffen?

3. Both Iraqis and the United States are right, and wrong. The United States is right that a new dam needs to be built (gypsum??). The Iraqis are right that if the United States tries to get the dam built, a lot of money will be spent, and at the end of the day, matters will be worse than before.

In any case, it looks to me like the story is driven by a mix of people with genuine concern, and Corps contractors, who want another billion dollar contract.


NOTE Good thing nobody's targeted the dam for attack, eh? Like, say, the Turks, who also don't like the Kurds very much. That would be bad...

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chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

this really pisses me off:

“The expenditures of the money have yielded no benefit yet.”

well, how about getting my money back? you know, like normal people do when they pay for something they don't actually get? isn't the IG sort of a visacard protection agency for taxpayer dollars? i guess not.

yeah, it's "just" 27m, and compared to lost trillions, that's nothing. but i am so fucking sick and tired of government "inspections" and "reviews" that talk about what we didn't get, but never, ever about who is responsible for the failures.

who got paid, where are they now, and where is the money? dems, this isn't hard.

Submitted by lambert on

Iraq is like a giant social engineering experiment for how the Conservative movement would like to structure the world: No rule of law + everybody armed = massive theft. Not hard to understand. Big Media Matt linked to a 2004 classic that bears on this:

The Vital Importance of Audit. Emphasised over and over again. Brealey and Myers has a section on this, in which they remind callow students that like backing-up one's computer files, this is a lesson that everyone seems to have to learn the hard way. Basically, it's been shown time and again and again; companies which do not audit completed projects in order to see how accurate the original projections were, tend to get exactly the forecasts and projects that they deserve. Companies which have a culture where there are no consequences for making dishonest forecasts, get the projects they deserve. Companies which allocate blank cheques to management teams with a proven record of failure and mendacity, get what they deserve.

I hope I don't have to spell out the implications of this one for Iraq. Krugman has gone on and on about this, seemingly with some small effect these days. The raspberry road that led to Abu Ghraib was paved with bland assumptions that people who had repeatedly proved their untrustworthiness, could be trusted. There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of "argumentum ad hominem". There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of "giving known liars the benefit of the doubt", but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.

They don't keep track of the money because they want to steal it, or enable those who will.

Great to have you back, CD. Plan to stay awhile? Was it something I said?

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

sick in my body and my heart. i felt bad when you said you had RL stuff that would keep you from megablogging, so i thought i'd buck up and do my part. i'll try to be more regular.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm so sorry. Heartsick is terrible. (Of course, I believe that the cure for all sickness is more hard work, but still.) You've got my email address. Non-meta, non-ironic kisses....

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Let me see if I have this right.
-- Iraqi engineers built the Mosul dam two decades ago...
-- We think it's going to fail...
-- They think it's not...
And somehow, if it does, it's George Bush's fault.

I don't get it...

Submitted by lambert on

And I assume you're conservative....

All the outcomes are bad. That none of the information is trustworthy and that none of the principals trust each other is down to Bush, since it's a situation he made. Does this help?

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

The dam was built in Sadaam's day all right. And if he were still in charge of the country it would be his problem.

Instead "we" didn't just invade and overthrow and get the hell out, which would have been bad, not to mention illegal seeing as Iraq had done nothing aggressive against us, enough. But then "we" decided to stick around, which made us not just invaders but occupiers.

Read your international law. The occupying force is responsible for everything, including maintenance of infrastructure. If this seems excessively burdensome, it is. For a reason: to make invading and occupying other countries a very difficult thing, so as to make prospective invaders 'n' occupiers think twice before undertaking such an effort.

the "pottery barn rule" predates Pottery Barn by a good long stretch.

Why do you still defend Bush, Alan? He's never defended you from anything but "Sadaam's WMD," which he knew did not exist. I can understand people who still believe in God a lot better than I can understand anybody who still believes in Bush.