By F. Brinley Bruton
9 April 2016
WANA, Iraq – The possibility of annihilation hangs over Saddeq Hassan and his neighbors.
Their town of Wana is just 7 miles downriver from the troubled Mosul dam, which U.S. officials warn is in danger of failing — which could kill between 500,000 and 1.47 million people.
A senior Iraqi official this week refused to discuss the Iraqi government's emergency evacuation plans, telling NBC News they were "secret."
Such silence leaves Hassan fearing the wall of water that could be unleashed if the event of a breach at what has been dubbed the world's most dangerous dam. Wana hugs the Tigris River and escaping an oncoming tide would be very difficult.
"We have heard through the media that the [Mosul dam] might collapse," said Hassan, a 50-year-old retired government worker.
"I don't know what to say to my children if the dam collapses," he added. "Everyone will try to escape. They might leave their families and kids."
This community's residents have seen more than their fair share of strife in recent years. ISIS militants seized the dam and the mixed Arab-Kurdish town in August 2014, forcing entire population of around 9,000 to flee. The workers whose job it is to pour cement under its foundation continuously to keep it from collapsing, a process known as "grouting," also left.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by U.S. air power recaptured the dam several weeks later. But many workers did not come back because they had not been paid in months. And hiring replacements was hampered by squabbling between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government. […]
On February 29, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad warned a collapse would be "serious and unprecedented." Up to 1.47 million Iraqis would "probably would not survive" the wave, while water could reach depths of 45 feet in the city of Mosul, it said in a statement. Wana is 19 miles closer to the dam than Mosul.
Days after the U.S. Embassy's statement, the American ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power warned that the collapse of Iraq's largest dam would be "catastrophic."
"There is the potential in some places for a flood wave up to 14 meters [45 feet] high that could sweep up everything in its path, including people, cars, unexploded ordnance, waste and other hazardous material, further endangering massive population centers that lie in the flood path," she said after a briefing that included U.N. and Iraqi officials.
"Work to stabilize Mosul dam must begin ASAP but all countries must step up to fund relief and public education on evacuation routes," Power added in a tweet. [more]