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Mosul dam engineers warn it could fail at any time, killing 1M people (theguardian.com)
522 points by larrymcp on March 3, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 247 comments

I was a Marine in Iraq from 06-09. We constantly built plans for the inevitable demise of this dam. Mostly just estimates of how screwed people would be.

I'm surprised it's not blown yet, I was constantly worried someone would bomb it somehow, but 7 years later, it's still standing, so I'm unsure about any estimates given now - the Iraqis were fairly liberal in their estimates in 2006 (it'll fall by 2007) and the same predictions followed every year. Of course, they wanted vast quantities of money to fix it (and skim off the top for themselves) so there was some bias.

Check out the Haditha Dam too. Another large body of water held back by aging infrastructure further destroyed by looters who dismantled huge pieces of machinery to sell as scrap for $0.05/lb.

Surprised that some big infrastructure company like Halli or Bechtel didn't see an opportunity to scheme some business from this.

Some of those guys were severely burned by the Iraqi Adventure. SFAIK, Halli divested of Brown-Root.

Big Engineering like that might as well be politics. And this makes me think of the St. Francis Dam.

"It's Chinatown, Jake."

I watched that movie while coming down (ok, failing to come down) from my first acid trip. Not the right choice. Great movie though.

That was a funny and unexpected comment...

What movie are you talking about?

I'm guessing "Chinatown"

You are correct, sir.

Rebuilding Mosul is more lucrative that maintenance on Mosul dam?

With the added benefit of being a "hero" when they go in to rebuild in such a dangerous area.

And 'hero' pay, no doubt.

Look at the upside - when it blows they can always rent bulldozers to bury all the bodies.

Indeed! Good thinking. Rebuild dam and city. Funded by US loans of course.

That's the business model of the IMF.

Would you prefer to be paved in gold or bombs?

Fun fact: The gold is almost certainly cheaper in the long run.

I'm positive they likely have.

Don't forget the fact that Feinstein's husband was head of a doc at Bechtel Corp and she was on the Military construction Appropriations committee, they funneled a lot of money through that incestuous relationship.

She left that committee in 2008, which was plenty of time for graft.

Why didn't the failsafe dam get built? It's a perfect big infrastructure project for IMF types to fund?

The work on the failsafe dam has actually started a few years ago but it got only 40% finished due to political tensions. It's not done and it wouldn't be able to hold anything as it currently is.

> The dam was designed by a Swiss firm of consultants and built by a German-Italian consortium in 1984. Water began seeping through in 1986, when it became apparent that the geological issues were worse than the consultants had predicted.

I doubt that this was an innocent failure on their part. There was a huge financial incentive for these firms to find some way to validate this project.

Successive foreign consultants warned about the risk of building this dam on water-soluble bedrock. The risk was not subtle.

The planning documents for this dam should be scrutinized very closely for evidence of omission or manipulation of data, and the firms involved should be investigated. And if they are found culpable, they should participate in the costs of shoring up the dam. They have played a part in this mess.

Judging by the Wikipedia entry[0], engineers did warn of it and propose a solution, but it would have slowed construction.

> Because the dam was constructed on a foundation of soluble gypsum, the engineers recommended the implementation of a grout curtain within the foundation before the superstructure was built. Instead, to speed construction of the dam, engineers installed a grouting gallery that would allow continuous grouting of the dam's foundation in order to promote stability.


And of course the backup solution has worked for 30 years, it is only failing now because the war has made the availability of workers and cement scarce. As I read through some of the pages on the this it seems like the "grouting gallery" would eventually have created the seal necessary.

So I get that it was not the choice one would use in hindsight, I can also see how people at the time weren't thinking "Well what happens if the government is overthrown and we're in civil war and can't do the grouting?" No, doubt if that came up someone said "Well if that happens we'll have worse problems than keeping this dam fixed! har har har." (as you can tell I really dislike it when people use that as an excuse for allowing technical debt to be created)

Also, back then, Saddam Hussein was an effective leader who kept his people in control, and Iraq was one of U.S.'s staunchest allies, it would have been hard to imagine U.S. would be the invaders that would create the power vacuum for rebels launch a civil war.

"Well what happens if we get invaded?"

"Not going to happen while we're U.S.'s best buddies."

"What about a rebellion?"

"With Saddam Hussein? Impossible. Iraq is a stable country."

> Iraq was one of U.S.'s staunches

That's quite an exaggeration. Iraq and the United States didn't even have diplomatic relations from 1967 to 1983. The U.S. did help Iraq when it looked like it was going to lose the war it started with Iran, but it was mostly intelligence aid since Congress refused to lift the arms embargo against Iraq.

Mosul Dam wasn't completed till 1986, and 1983-1986 is the period of time where Mosul Dam was being constructed, and when U.S.-Iraq relations were at their most friendly.

I just don't understand why you assume that the risks were not disclosed to the government. In my eyes, it's way more likely that the government decided to go ahead anyway. This was one of Saddam Hussein's prestige projects - telling him that it couldn't be done could've been fatal.

So, crazy idea (and completely inapplicable here, because dictatorship). Is there any government in the word that has an empowered "science" branch of government as a check and balance?

I'm not suggesting science is apolitical, but I feel like there's some merit to "We wanted to build a broken dam because {political considerations}, but the {science branch} vetoed it."

Kind of like a Supreme Court, except informed by scientific knowledge rather than law.

I wish! Though implementation would be tricky and might heavily politicize science in a bad way (as opposed to a good way; which could also happen). The closest I've seen anywhere to that is in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy.

Here's an excerpt from the "Martian Constitution" in the accompanying book "The Martians": """All laws passed by the congress shall also be subject to review by the constitutional and environmental courts, and a veto by these courts cannot be overridden, but shall be grounds for rewriting the law if the congress sees fit, after which the process of passing the law shall begin again."""

I found the rest here: http://pastebin.com/YeR74Yyb

Good find. I remember the constitution they hammered out in the books was interesting, as there was a lot of Aldo Leopold "think like a mountain" stuff.

(Of course, in the book, they've discovered a genetic repair mechanism that effectively makes people immortal, so I suppose it's still self interest)

In practice, the administrative agency apparatus works this way in the US. Projects go through things like environmental impact assessments, unless they're explicitly exempted. Of course, calling it a "science branch" is wildly optimistic; even theoretically objective assessments are skewed towards the favored result.

That's an interesting thought. I believe the EPA, FDA, OSHA, etc, are supposed to be the quality control science branches of the government. But instead of preventative maintenance, they just dole out fines after some violation.

The problem is that these organizations are headed by appointed politicians. And I've heard in the EPA at least there's an institutional boundaries between researchers (who do science) and administrators (who make decisions). I can try and dig up a citatation if you're interested, but my impression was scientists researchers were encouraged not to become involved in policy decisions.

While Saddam Hussein may not have been a friend of human rights I doubt he would have had European engineers killed for declining to work on his project.

He might have killed the people who reported to him, who in turn did everything to make that project happen, future cost and risk be damned.

"To understand his tantrum one must understand the kinship he feels with the great men of history, with history itself. Lack of reverence for an image of Copernicus might suggest a lack of reverence for Saddam."

From : http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2002/05/tales-of...

Dictators are violent, not stupid. They understand risks, and make decisions like any other leader.

Most dictators tend to behave in ways that doesn't exactly encourage their minions to be open and honest with them - the unhappy outcome of the 1937 Census in the Soviet Union being a good example:


I think it would have been a foolishly courageous engineer who told Saddam that his dam project wasn't going to work...

From the linked Atlantic article:

> Samarai had detailed evidence to back up his views—photographs, news reports, numbers. The Iraqis could expect nothing more than swift defeat, and the threat that Iran would take advantage of their weakness by invading from the north.

And Saddam's response?

>To Samarai's surprise, Saddam did not seem angry with him for delivering this bad news. In fact, he acted appreciative that Samarai had given it to him straight. "I trust you, and that's your opinion," he said. "You are a trustworthy person, an honorable person."

Saddam didn't listen to him, but he also certainly didn't punish him for giving him the truth.

>>I think it would have been a foolishly courageous engineer who told Saddam that his dam project wasn't going to work...

That isn't how it works. You don't just walk up to the dictator and troll him/her in the face about their project.

You discuss engineering merits/demerits, risks/advantages make a brief conclusion and leave it there. You leave the decision to the them. Its a totally different thing for them to neglect all of that and continue with their will.

But a good engineer would talk on the project's merit instead of talking about the dictators foolishness on the project.

If the ego of the person in command is dependent on a certain outcome, evidence of that outcome's impossibility will seldom be met with rational thought.

I'm reluctant to accept the caricature of evil dictators who have a "kill now" button on their desk for anyone who tells them something they don't like. I don't believe anything could get done that way in the real world.

Certainly the census you're referring to is a sad example of political denial, but it doesn't say anyone was killed (just imprisoned, and while prison isn't a lot of fun, it's a far cry from execution) and my guess would be that the article glosses over a lot of detail, like meetings with Stalin where he said "Hmm, I don't think these results are gonna work, they're very politically inconvenient and must not represent reality. Fix it. Let me know if you can't, and I'll find someone who can." The statisticians failed to "fix" it and failed to inform Stalin that he needed to find someone else to conduct the manipulation he sought.

I understand that statisticians with integrity would decline the responsibility to change the numbers (though statisticians with a sense of self-preservation would resign rather than release accurate details), but numbers on paper are a much different ballgame than "this structure will literally fall apart and kill millions of people when it does".

Reports and studies are manipulated to fit an agenda constantly because they're so easy to manipulate. This happens all the time now and surely it happened all the time in the past. The nice thing about construction is that you can't manipulate the outcome. Something either stands or it doesn't, regardless of human opinion, threats, or insistence.

Look up Christopher Hitchen's lecture on how Saddam Hussein consolidated power in his Baathist purge of ~1979.

Step 1: Randomly select a large portion of the assembled party as enemies of the state / party.

Step 2: Enlist the remaining party members to execute the first.

Step 3: ???

Step 4: Profit!

It's a formula even more twisted than Hitler and Stalin.

Nine minutes: https://youtu.be/CR1X3zV6X5Y

Isn't that a very good reason for not telling the truth to government?

One possibility is that a lot of people did tell the truth to the government, but the government kept asking more questions until it got the answer it wanted. There's always somebody willing to be paid to do that, and it isn't necessarily an indictment against a profession that it doesn't have literally 100% compliance to some ethical standard, on the grounds that I don't tend to indict entire professional fields for failing to accomplish the literally impossible.

>> There's always somebody willing to be paid to do that


Not really. That's a very good reason for going ahead when told to go ahead (instead of the ethical refusal to go through with the project).

If those firms knew if the extreme risks then they should have decided not to accept the work!

I think it's pretty much a given that Sadaam Hussein, even back then, was a dictator who wouldn't necessarily put the safety of his people first.

I do not think that because he was a dictator he would not care at all.

Probably, he did not want to destroy Mosul and all its people. And even if this did not worry him, taking into account that he was doing this for publicity (either internal or international), he would not have wanted the dam to fail and kill thousands of people.

Yes, if he wanted to kill all the people of Mosul, I'm sure there would have been a lot things that could have been done for much cheaper than building a dam, and maintaining it for 30 years.

Bad does not equal stupid.

Iraq was relatively friendly with the US up until its invasion of Kuwait. We liked Saddam back when his main thing was fighting the Ayatollah.

It's not necessarily a faulty design. It simply requires maintenance that's not happening just like you car engine needs oil and you need to keep swapping that oil out after a while.

ex: A spent fuel pool is actually really simple and 'safe' just add water and keep cool. That does not mean you can walk away and not touch one for a year and expect everything to be ok. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spent_fuel_pool

Yes, but it's not "fail-safe". Building a massive dam above a million person flood plain, that requires continuous aggressive maintenance seems short sighted at best.

Dictatorships are not known for wise decisions.

This is one reason why "skin in the game" (to use Taleb's phrase) and social solidarity (to use mine) is so important in economic matters.

During my libertarian days, I used to mock the folks that suggested tariffs and favoring local companies in infrastructure projects were good ideas. I now regret giving so little thought to their arguments.

Wouldn't this apply to most dams around the world? Designed, constructed by foreigners?

Yes. Maybe there is evidence of manipulation of data , but who will bring the Italian/Swiss/German companies to justice ? Iraq ? US? EU?

This happened 30 years ago, some people might not even be alive..

30 years is nothing in infrastructure terms, if the companies still have money in the bank, and they are guilty of something then of course they should pay, that's the business they chose to be in!

Bhopal, event happened in 1984, some guilty verdicts delivered and sentences passed in 2010.

After more than 30 years the statutes of limitations would hinder such investigations.

Really? Details please.


Now there's a name I haven't heard in a very long time...

This picture on wikipedia of the dam has a really beautiful contrast between the water and the land around it (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/ea/Mo...) Also draws attention to the fact that there's a massive amount of water behind the dam.

edit: wiki link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosul_Dam, to save you the effort of googling :)

Any satellite view gives you even better idea about the amount of the water and the danger for Mosul:


And for the size, even when you see the whole Mediterranean, the lake is still visible (on the right)!


The areas affected in Mosul, the location of other cities that are affected and the structure of the dam are successfully presented in the Guardian's article:


i just want to point out that the fail-safe was abandoned due to sanctions against Iraq. I hope people remember things like this when they openly promote sanctions against countries whose leaders we disagree with. We aren't hurting the leaders, we're hurting the citizenry. And we are certainly not bringing them to our side. We are causing real suffering and death of innocent people.

for example, clinton's iraq sanctions were one of osama bin ladens stated justifications:

UNICEF: 500,000 children (including sanctions, collateral effects of war). "[As of 1999] [c]hildren under 5 years of age are dying at more than twice the rate they were ten years ago." (As is customary, this report was based on a survey conducted in cooperation with the Iraqi government and by local authorities in the provinces not controlled by the Iraqi government)[35]


Yes. And the sanctions were just one part of all bad things that happened in the area. Also see my other comments here for more on the same subject (like what Madeleine Albright had to say about these dead children). And the "WMD story" was effectively invented as an excuse for the US to start the 2003 war. The war was planned even before G.W. became president (search about the "Project for the New American Century" or the goals of Saudi Arabia after 1991, who really wanted Saddam away but just didn't like the full war by the US). There was also no al-Qaeda in Iraq there then: only the effects of 2003 war brought them in. The 9/11 attackers were mostly Saudis (15 from 19), and only the US officials' propaganda made "assumed" connections with Saddam. And the UK even faked the report about WMD by doing a copy paste of the 13-years old work of some Californian student they have found on the Internet(!) Bush actually already wanted to attack Iraq right after 9/11, even before the propaganda started, according to the people who worked with him at the time, and Tony Blair jumped where Bush wanted. Anyway, the war was portrayed as the way to "bring the democracy" to Iraq. Back to the dam, the US effectively took the responsibility for the area since 2003, but they also haven't done anything to finish the second dam, which was cancelled earlier because of the sanctions. The US "aid" for the dam was $25m, a fourth of the price of just one F-35. And before the war, the "opportunity" for development was promoted as "using the profit of Iraqi oil to rebuild the infrastructure".

That's a good point you make about US reconstruction or lack thereof. I wonder if any of the Marines on here who were in Iraq could explain why this buffer dam didn't get built? It seems a perfect large scale infrastructure project and it doesn't even have to work much.

> formerly known as Saddam Dam

such an opportunity lost to call it SadDam

:( Damn.


If the dam knew how it was built, it would be a sad dam.

Hussien they didn't think of that?

For more context, at just over 11 cubic km it's roughly twice as large as Shasta Lake[0]—California's largest reservoir.


So many indignant comments here by people who've surely never seen how large construction projects work in third world countries.

Try to keep in mind that the average civil engineer has the same amount of integrity as you do. Maybe more because lives are at stake. How construction projects get green lit in third world countries often follows an unorthodox set of practices far removed from the engineers who are told to "just make it work". Sound familiar?

There's a paper by some professors at Mosul Univ discussing the dam. Apparently it's built on gypsum and has been patched by continuous filling with cement; the current problems stem from incorrect construction in the 80s.

The professors game out 5 catastrophic failures. They range from a wall of water 25m high that would eventually cover over 50% of Mosul city (high) to a mere 34% of the city (best case.) Maximal water levels would be reached within 6 hours. Reading between the lines, I get the sense there is no serious and/or realistic evacuation plan. Not to mention I think Mosul is ruled by ISIS, so coordination with the Iraqi government and/or external dam repair personnel is presumably limited.

edit: with much of Baghdad itself under 4m water within 3 days after collapse. Which probably allows time for evacuation at least, though that's small comfort.


This sounds like biblical history in the making...

If the dam breaks, ISIS will be judged responsible for more deaths than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maintenance on the dam almost entirely stopped when ISIS took over, and the grouting machines required for maintaining it were looted. And the dead will be Sunni Muslims--their own "citizens", those who didn't flee when ISIS took control of Mosul.

It will be the lasting legacy of ISIS.

Surely this is a factor in the timing of the US-led effort currently underway to retake Mosul from ISIS, backed by the Iraqi Army.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that's not how this will be viewed in a local/regional context. My guess is the local boys just trying to survive won't be seen as the problem when compared to the international imperialists and dictators we seem to be viewed as.

Just a guess, really, but on an international level, we'll know the truth. But, I'm guessing this dam(n) failure will be yet another successful recruiting tool for ISIS and the like.

Anyone with a head for middle-eastern politics and terrorist recruiting tactics around to respond?

Don't let anyone blame ISIS. This has been an ongoing issue since the dam was built and the new dam construction stopped because of sanctions. Money should have been available for continuing the new dam. Enough billions were wasted on other projects since the invasion.

John Oliver did a pretty good piece on infrastructure:


No politician gets to cut a ribbon with a giant pair of scissors when they fund routine maintenance. So why bother.

The fix seems easy - do cut the ribbon in such cases.

That was the thought that went through my mind when I first watched that piece. I think I'm unusually excited by incremental improvement and routine maintenance though.

Me too. There is something wrong with us. :)

You're not alone. http://www.skyscrapercity.com/ :)

You also get this with corporations, as new stuff is filed as an investment while maintenance is under expenses.

Accounting practices make everything bizarre.

This is the bigger version of the Vajont Dam's tragedy of the '60s that killed two thousand people and wrecked an entire province. [1]

> At 10:39 P.M., a massive landslide of about 260,000,000 cubic metres (340,000,000 cu yd) of forest, earth, and rock fell into the reservoir at up to 110 kilometres per hour (68 mph), completely filling the narrow reservoir behind the dam. The landslide was complete in just 45 seconds, much faster than predicted, and the resulting displacement of water caused 50,000,000 cubic metres (65,000,000 cu yd) of water to overtop the dam in a 250-metre (820 ft) high wave.

> This event occurred when the company and the Italian government dismissed evidence and concealed reports describing the geological instability of Monte Toc on the southern side of the basin, and other early warning signs reported prior to the disaster.

> Numerous warnings, signs of danger, and negative appraisals had been disregarded, and the eventual attempt to safely control the landslide into the lake by lowering its level came when the landslide was almost imminent and was too late to prevent it.

and also

> On 12 February 2008, while launching the International Year of Planet Earth, UNESCO cited the Vajont Dam tragedy as one of five "cautionary tales", caused by "the failure of engineers and geologists".

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vajont_Dam

Except that in the case of the Vajont Dam disaster that dam didn't actually fail and is mostly still there.

Drain it. Seriously.

Any other response is either unrealistically expensive/complicated or reckless.

Sure, the Italian company could maintain it if they aren't attacked by ISIS, but that is a big if when failure is immanent.

> Drain it. Seriously.

Easy to say when the sluice gates are stuck and the dam represents more than 10% of the country's already way under demand electricity production.

Where is that electricity going? Mosul?

If it is, then shutting it down would cut off an enemy's economic resources and force them to choose between an angry population and attacking a fortified position against air superiority.

Yes, being without electricity does great harm to the civilian population, but less harm than a massacre-by-flood.

Remember that the sluice gates are seized. Obviously they should still drain it but it's not as simple as making the call.

Would it suffice to just take a stick of dynamite to one of the seized gates?

I am just guessing here, but I would expect that there are better ways to solve the issue with the gate that are easier, safer and even cheaper than dynamite.

The article says only one of two gates has problems, but they cannot open only one because of the asymmetry that would introduce. So, to solve the problem with dynamite, it would be necessary to make very good calculations to be sure you make exactly the hole you want, then actually do it with a very high precision (for an explosion).

I do not think opening that gate is as much a technical problem as a problem of initiative and responsibility.

What could possibly go wrong?

Various forms of shaped charges and explosives could be used to open the sluice gates but that would leave them permanently opened.

The main fear here is that if the dam reaches its design head, the water will tunnel underneath and around the dam through the water soluble rocks. The dam can't exceed the design head because of the spillway that is visible to the south east of the dam.

So explosives could well be used to force open the sluice gates.

> So explosives could well be used to force open the sluice gates.

This would make for a great Michael Bay movie, but real life doesn't work that way.

We should use nano-thermite like we did on that other inside job ;-)

You (and at least one other) reacted as though I had claimed such an action would come with a guarantee nothing could go wrong. Which is, to put it bluntly, a rather stupid reaction given that:

1. I didn't make a claim. I asked a question.

2. According to the experts, the clock is currently ticking down on a million lives with no idea of how much time is left, so your implied suggestion of doing nothing (which is the implied suggestion when you summarily dismiss a line of thought while providing nothing in its place) is... well, how exactly would you describe the suggestion of just letting a million people die, had it come from someone else?

It just seems to me that using explosives on a structure where collapse is imminent in order to fix it sounds like the most dangerous idea one could possibly have.

First of all, according to what the experts are saying, the most dangerous idea one could possibly have is your idea of doing nothing - that guarantees the worst-case outcome.

Second, one would normally expect the force required to break the dam to be orders of magnitude larger than that required to open a sluice gate. Obviously this isn't a normal situation, but then, what are the figures? If a stick of dynamite isn't the appropriate tool, exactly what would it take to open the gates?

Third, if you could say 'we are going to try this at such and such a time, everyone be prepared' that would be far better than having it fail at an unknown time.

Fourth, now that I think of it, even deliberately blowing up the dam at a known time would be better than letting it fail at an unknown time.

Fifth, I'm sure there is some relevant idea or consideration I haven't thought of, that someone else could think of if they put their mind to doing so.

I'm sure it can be done safely, but a stick of dynamite probably isn't the way.

How could they drain it?

I would imagine siphoning might be a simple enough process and could be setup in multiple places along the dam to avoid the asymmetric draining issues mentioned further in the discussion here on hacker news.

You can syphon up about 30ft. The dam is 371 ft.

Can you explain why a syphon won't work over 30ft?

"This siphon effect relies on atmospheric pressure to allow the pressure and pressure potential energy to drop as the water travels upward inside the sealed pipe. But eventually the pressure of the rising water reaches zero and no further reductions in pressure and pressure potential energy are possible. That failure of the siphon effect occurs when the water is about 30 feet (10 meters) above the higher container. You can't use a siphon to lift water higher than 30 feet because above that height, an empty region will develop at the top of the pipe and stop the siphon process."


It's not atmospheric pressure:

"Here we report an experiment of a siphon operating at sea level at a height of 15 m, well above 10 m. Prior degassing of the water prevented cavitation. This experiment provides conclusive evidence that siphons operate through gravity and molecular cohesion."


Quote from the conclusion:

"""Extrapolating these results from even the most conservative experimental measurements of the tension under which cavitation occurs it is possible that the cohesive strength of fully degassed water is able to support a continuous vertical column greater than several hundred meters. While the experiment performed here did not reach anywhere near the absolute limit predicted it does shed light on the stability of flowing water under tensile stress and the possibility of constructing apparatus of suitable dimensions to test such a limit. (...) In view of the many anomalies of bulk water, it would be interesting to explore the physical properties of water in the negative pressure regime of a siphon above 10 m."""

So, as long as we don't break the water column by bubbles (or other impurities in the water that will lead to formations of bubbles on their surface) we could empty the Mosul dam via a siphon.

That's a fascinating result! We only have to remove the rocks, the fish and put the dam under high-vacuum for outgassing for a few weeks ;-). If we don't do that, the old atmospheric pressure model holds, and the siphon will be limited to 10 metres, 30 ft.

I wasn't implying that the result from the paper is applicable to draining the dam, just that we should stop explaining the siphon effect in terms of atmospheric pressure now that we know it's not the case.

I seriously was amazed about the result, with a "block" of water being able to withstand tension. Also the working principle of a siphon, I think, never was about atmospheric pressure. It's only the maximum height limit where pressure comes into place.

As long as you are below the limit, you can still claim that the "two sides" of your siphon are held together by the pressure extorted on both sides by our atmosphere. And only as you exceed this limit you'll require the water to resist actively to be "pulled apart".

Unfortunately this interesting property is pretty irrelevant in real-life situations where water you'd like to siphon contains dirt, rocks, crockodiles... And these impurities will make your "water cable" break as soon as (or probably just a little later when...) you reach vacuum on the top, at 10m.


What about running the tube over the dam and down to a lower level than it originates? Then gravity(?) does the trick?

The issue is that top of the dam is (way) over 30 feet above the water level behind the dam, which prevents the suction from overcoming gravity. A siphon won't work with that much of a rise in the middle no matter what the difference is between the elevations of the ends of the tube.

Also what you're describing is literally how all siphons must work--you can't siphon to a higher elevation.

It would only work if the difference between the water level and the top of the wall is less than rouhgly 30ft (as per xkcd). The bottom line is, the siphon will not work if it has a vertical water column taller than 30ft (water weight per unit area becomes greater than opposing atmospheric pressure)

http://what-if.xkcd.com/143/ has more details (and a rather more fantastical situation).

Putting aside the obvious detail that the dam would be empty already if we were trying to siphon water up a full 371 feet... Your correct, the entire thread this spawned was educational, and I learned something new today which was pretty damn interesting. Interesting enough I'm not bothered by the small karma loss my initial comment incurred.

Actually though, you could presumably cut holes in the dam as you go. So siphon off the top 30ft, then cut a hole at 341 feet and siphon through there.

Why not use pumps instead of syphoning?

Dig an alternate channel.

That's called a spillway BTW and the problem with spillways is erosion and the energy of the water. So spillways have to be made of reinforced concrete or similarly strong materials when the local rock isn't hard enough and they have to be shaped to dissipate the energy.

The spillway of the Mosul dam is made of concrete the problem with it appears to be that it allows too high a water level for the dam in its current shape even when fully open.

I'm not sure it would be quite so simple. The article mentions the reason that they can't just open one gate is because the asymmetric draining would be harmful to the dam. It's possible that any sort of adhoc draining would adversely affect the dam. Not to mention quickly building a secure tunnel to handle the water pressure at that depth sounds like no mean feat.

Well, immediately getting back to grouting the base would be the first order of business. Second, fixing the jammed sluice gate. We need an analysis and timeline of the above and time is something it seems we don't have.

For the nearest comparable disaster, look up the Banqiao Dam Failure, occurring in 1975 in China. It resulted in the deaths of 171,000 people in the densly-populated downstream valley.

The circumstances of the failure are themselves instructive. Poor planning, poor design, ignored engineering warnings (and banishment of the engineer in question), inadequate safety presentations, a true monster of a storm (over 1 meter of water in 24 hours), miscommunications, failed communications, no downstream warning system, the inevitable dam failure, and a further cascade of additional dam failures, including many of which were blasted open with artillery.

Only a relatively small number of the deaths were direcectly precipitated by the flooding. Many resulted from disease and starvation.


The Mosul Dam could potentially dwarf this tragedy.

>over 1 meter of water in 24 hours

That's the first time I've seen rain measured in metres instead of millimetres.

Well, the official reports were in mm. But there were over a thousand of them.

To give some sense of the scale of the disaster that would follow a failure, the US considered bombing that dam and releasing all that water in response to a potential chemical attack on US troops during Gulf War I, according to Colin Powell (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/gulf/script_b.html - search for dams).

They considered an attack that would have killed ~1M people, presumably mainly civilians? sigh smh

Considered means had a study done to see what the effects would be. It doesn't mean that was the preferred strategy.

There are people in the Pentagon considering all kinds of crazy scenarios all the time, so that when crazy actually happens the leaders can make a quick decision based on a briefing book that took a while to put together. It sounds ominous in the press, but it's really innocuous.

To play devil's advocate here, any competent military would consider possibilities like this. "War is hell" is said so often these days as to be blasé, but it really is true.

How is "War is hell" always used an excuse for everything? It only makes sense if the alternative is a worse hell. Otherwise it seems like a great reason not to do something like this.

People seem to act as if it means that you can call something "war" and suspend all ethics. Maybe if I feel like punching someone in the face, I could say "Hey man, getting punched in the face is hell. What are you gonna do?"

Maybe that's the blasé part of it that you were referring to.

Are you saying that any competent military would consider racking up a civilian death toll on the order of the Auschwitz death camp in the matter of days?

Thank god the US military isn't competent then.

Well we can look at it in one of two ways. You can look at a situation, and ask for all of the options, and their costs and benefits. So that when someone asks "why didn't you do this" or "what if we did such-and-such", you can say that we looked into it and the costs were too high, see report #JF0032-7. Or you can always look for the most evil intent in everything, which may say more about you than the world.

Yes. They should consider a given plan and look at the costs and the benefits. Kinda like when they drop bombs. Be it normal bombing, the fire bombing of Kyoto, or using nuclear bombs.

Most major militaries have considered options that are orders of magnitude worse.

Not most, all.

Again, the concept that "war is hell" doesn't seem to hit home for some people.

It's hell because of stuff like this. What doesn't seem to hit home for some people is that maybe your country isn't always "the good guys", and seriously considering a plan like this (beyond investigating what would happen so you can make the right decision when things start happening quickly) is precisely what makes you the bad guy.

The crux of your argument seems to rest on what "seriously considered" means. Not saying the US is the "good guys" here, but they're doing their due diligence, not trying to inflict the most damage purely out of rage or spite.

In my opinion, that's the point. Acknowledging that there is a dam whose collapse is capable of killing a million people is very different from actively assigning military personnel to study how to compromise the dam and flood the population for strategic gain. As the GP said, the statement "war is hell" is only made true by our own behavior during wartime, not by any universal law of the universe.

This is very murky territory no matter how you swing it


That dam generates a lot of electricity. In war, power plants are strategic targets. It would be an obvious potential target to weaken the Iraqi military and war machine.

So, the U.S. military studies the potential effects of destroying the dam. In the end, it does not destroy the dam.

Fast forward a few years, and people like you are condemning the U.S. military for...what? Figuring out that doing so would have resulted in many deaths, and not doing so?

You're saying that they shouldn't have even studied the issue? What if the enemy starts using it as a base of operations because they don't think it will be attacked? Like people have said, war is hell, it's unpredictable. Something unexpected could happen, something undesirable could become necessary. Without having information like this already available, sound strategic decisions can't be made. Then people like you would be complaining that they acted rashly without studying the issue first.

If you're saying that the very act of studying the issue is wrong, that's simply thoughtcrime, as well as incredibly naive.

There's a huge difference between "thinking" something and actively assigning resources to study it in depth. And I don't see anyone calling for prosecution in this entire thread. Criticizing, sure, but wouldn't you criticize me if I spent time and resources trying to figure out how to kill tons of people? And GP acknowledges the difference between studying what would happen if the dam failed and how to simply kill massive numbers of civilians. Our point is that you can't just say it's okay to kill 1M civilians because "war is hell", "war is hell" because of stuff like that.

You've completely missed the point. "Whoosh."

And--perhaps ironically, from your point of view--the data and conclusions from the military study of the dam probably lends weight to the urgency of repairing it, thereby actually contributing to saving lives.

You've also neglected to consider that the dam could be attacked by anyone, including terrorists, competing regional forces, and (perhaps in Desert Storm) the Iraqis themselves. Imagine if Saddam Hussein had threatened to destroy the dam and kill millions of people unless the invading armies left.

Without knowing what would happen, it would not be possible to make a sound strategic decision, prepare for relief and evacuation, etc. It's better for everyone to know what would happen if the dam were attacked.

What you're advocating is naive ignorance.

How many armies in history have had the power to carry out mass murder on the scale of a million plus civilians in a single day, let alone planned to do so?

Killing such a number of people in such a short time has been absolutely impractical until the last century. Only China, Japan, Russia, and the United States have been able to carry out such destruction and none have been able to do so in such a short period of time except for nuclear weapons in WWII.

Customary International Humanitarian Law has something to say about this[0]. The US military has its interpretation of rule 42[1].

[0] https://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_cha_chapter13...

[1] https://www.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v2_cou_us_rule42

It isn't just about loss of life, the dam constitutes a good chunk of Iraq's power generation. It is still a strategic military target.

I'll concede the point that the military correctly considers everything to understand tradeoffs in advance of the time when a fast decision needs to be made. But to quote Pvt. Ruiz in Tour of Duty, "People are strategic".

They consider everything.

This revolting plan sounds almost like "Dr. Strangelove"...


(read the title on the spine of the book)

There is nothing wrong considering something.

The next paragraph mentions nuclear weapons. The context is widespread use of chemical weapons (i.e. WMDs) by the Iraqis, and potential retaliation for that.

They also have contingencies for several variants of zombie incursions and the arrival of a hostile sentient AI.

The military considers a lot of things.

Americans lives are worth much more than some stupid Iraqi civilians.

To Americans? Yes, they are. We are all hypocrites at some level.

I've had six civil engineers tell me that that dam has 6-months at maximum. The odds of collapse within that period ranged from 80-95% in estimates.

When did they tell you this? Just trying to get an accurate time-frame.

Is it because of the coming snow melt? Or just time is running out?

Unexhaustively: snow melt, fighting season, lack of maintenance.

When did they tell you that?

A couple days ago, dinner conversation.

Interesting that Hoover Dam mentioned elsewhere in the thread also had problems with geology of the rocks under it and had to be fixed in a hacky way by additional grouting for 12 years after completion


Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

Has/could someone at least set up some cameras recording 24/7 to document the inevitable collapse in detail?

I am afraid that the amount of vapor would not let us to see too much. But I totally agree, somebody please set up some cameras.

It sounds like it will be such a huge event that the camera's will need to be on satellites.

this sounds like a job for drones

Iraq was altogether a different country when it was built, but infrastructure that can fail killing 1M people unless maintained 24/7 by a 300 person crew sounds like it has way too many failure scenario for comfort.

AFAIK you can abandon the Hoover dam and it will still be there in 500 years. It looks like the Mosul dam engineers couldn't achieve remotely the same result given the soil it's built on, but there must have been overwhelming reasons to build it despite the risks...

> AFAIK you can abandon the Hoover dam and it will still be there in 500 years.

Yes, Hoover dam is quite the civil engineering and project management feat. It's structural lifespan in the absence of maintenance (the turbines will go inoperative in months to years in the absence of maintenance) is estimated in the thousands of years range. [1]


I never got to the Hoover dam in New Vegas... I wonder how realistically it was depicted.

About as realistically as the National Mall in Fallout 3, that is, smaller in scale and very simplified.

My understanding: Russian engineers warned Saddam it could not be built there, but he ordered it done anyway to partially cut off Kurdish rebel movement by creating a lake. See eg


The whole thing is an utter clusterfuck. An American civil engineering prof is saying the sole possible solution is a cutoff wall that, by the way, has to not only be 800 ft below the embankment but is significantly deeper than any other such cutoff wall ever built. And it must be constructed in the middle of Iraq under a dam in serious danger of collapsing.


And finally another interesting article; the alternative to a cutoff wall is building a second $2B dam downstream. There's a good graphic half way down the article of the problems with the Mosul dam. Of course, that's not just $2B but at minimum several years away...


According to your last link, they actually began building a second dam further downstream in the 90s:

> A second structure, the Badush dam, was started 20km downstream, to prevent a catastrophe in the event of the Mosul dam’s failure. But work on Badush halted in the 1990s because of the pressure of sanctions, leaving it only 40% complete.

EDIT: Your last link is the same as the submission.

What's the use in comparing that dam with that another? They have absolutely nothing in common.

If you wanted to know why it's so dangerous, it still doesn't help comparing the dangerous one with your favorite and safe dam.

Earlier news give more context, the Iraq and US official warning, now the former engineers are even more worried than Iraq and US officials who did make explicit warnings, which certainly means it's really critical:


And the "explanation" is, the decision to build it was from the start political, not guided by the safety concerns:

"The dam, the largest in Iraq, has had structural problems since its construction in the 1980s. The Saddam Hussein regime pressed on with it in the face of warnings from geologists that it was being built on weak, water-soluble rock such as gypsum and anhydrite.

A report by a panel of Iraqi and Swedish geologists and engineers last year described it as “the most dangerous dam in the world”, saying its very construction was a “mystery” in view of the unfavourable geology. Before it was built, the report said, “all the studies expressed a clear concern on the fact that this region suffers from extensive presence of soluble rock formations that might undermine the safety of a high dam of a large reservoir such as Mosul dam.”"

And the safety-increasing project was started even 20 years ago, but the sanctions and the wars were stronger:

"A second structure, the Badush dam, was started 20km downstream, to prevent a catastrophe in the event of the Mosul dam’s failure. But work on Badush halted in the 1990s because of the pressure of sanctions, leaving it only 40% complete."

dude, it sounds like there is nothing that would help the dangerous dam. Nobody thinks that just words are going to help, but learning more about a dams in general (such as the hoover) does illuminate the the issue even if it doesn't help.

du-de viggity, somebody else (yread) here posted, but outside of this thread, don't ask why, that Hoover dam also had to be grouted after it was finished:


and that that lasted 12 years.

Now imagine that there wasn't peace at that time but that people couldn't even get enough food and medicine, and that at the time this should have been finished some 500,000 kids died, like in Iraq:


There was an attempt by Iraqis to somehow fix this (building the second dam) but as said, there were worse things happening.

I still believe that learning about everything that happened around the dam is more illuminating than the comparison with the Hoover.

Also Iraqi engineers often had to be creative for a lot of Saddam's rule because of sanctions. I say that to add to the "oh shit list" of things not looking good for Mosul, as well as to give due praise for managing to make it work this long despite the challenges x0x0 pointed out.

Perhaps you meant to say "couldn't achieve..."?

Indeed ;)

An article from 2007:

With a similar conclusion mentions that the water resources minister kept much of the discussions about how to proceed with the dam maintenance out of the public eye to avoid bringing the issues to the attention of insurgents.

That still has nothing to do with the obligations of the US who were in charge of Iraq since 2003.

Salgernon posted the link documenting how much the US engaged (hint: minimally, compared to what was needed to fix the issue):


Here is a 2015 paper with a detailed technical analysis. The first author on this paper is the Iraqi engineer interviewed in this Guardian article.


They should call the Dutch. They're the best at dams.

EDIT: Retrospectively, my comment is not necessarily appropriate. As much as the Dutch are good at building dams, it's obvious that the situation is dire and has more to do with security and military conflict. My apologies for being insensitive.

We're very good at dikes. We don't have much practice with hydroelectric dams though ;)

Are there any articles about how/why the sluice gates are seized? Is it sediment blocking them? Or did something mechanical break? I would like to hear from an engineer. I know that the US Corps of Engineers has probably been to it during the various wars. I know the overall problem is the porous rock and whole dam collapsing (which is horrible for the locals), I am just curious what the best way to relieve the pressure to buy time.

Software engineer here (chuckle). I spent a lot of time in Iraq, some of that time guarding infrastructure. The thing about most of that stuff -- and my guess in this case -- is that the machinery is rusted. The door may be physically jammed by silt or something, as well, but I would put my money on the machinery to open the doors being rusted or otherwise destroyed/removed by looters. This is the case with the vast majority of stuff like that in Iraq: If you weren't standing next to it with a machine gun, someone would carry off the parts to sell for scrap. Or at least nobody would come by to oil the parts and make sure they function properly. The thing with rusting machinery also is something of a cultural/religious phenomena, i.e. "it is the will of Allah" that this equipment is rusting, and therefore I should not perform maintenance on it. The Iraqi Army was hard to train for a number of reasons, but particularly in equipment maintenance for this reason. "Clean your weapon" ... "But it is the will of Allah that it is rusting" ...

> "Clean your weapon" ... "But it is the will of Allah that it is rusting"

Oh :)

Not a cultural/religious phenomena. That is just a sarcastic way to ignore someone. This way of passive resistance is kinder (and safer in context) than to outright say "piss off". Everything is considered will of God in Islam anyways - from someone moving a finger to celestial events.

When an Arab tells you "if it's the will of God" or "tomorrow" you are most likely on your own, nothing is going to get done. True for most of the muslims; more true for most of the Arabs. Source: a muslim.

Sure, that much is obvious, I just felt like "cultural/religious phenomena" was the best descriptor instead of saying something like "Them A-rabs are just super lazy".

This reminded me of this story in the current issue of The New Yorker <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/03/07/the-man-who-mad...

It seems to be a lost cause why not break open the jammed sluice gates one at a time to gradually let water through and let off at least some of the pressure? And then just leave them open.

It seems pointless to continually fix a dam with such design flaws and needing constant repair.

It sounds like having a dam is riskier than the alternative of not having a dam. Why not try draining the resouvoir and dismantling the dam?

Either do an emergency maintenance now or do a real evacuation.

To add to my prior comment, it seems like expending military resources to retake this area is a waste, since the citizens there support ISIS. Instead of getting soldiers killed fighting to "liberate" people who probably don't want to be liberated, maybe they should have just dropped a bunch of leaflets on Mosul, explaining that the dam isn't being maintained under ISIS control, and without maintenance will fail in a few years, causing a massive flood and killing most of the people in Mosul. So if they want to avoid this, it's up to them to rise up and revolt against ISIS. If they don't, oh well. If you're not willing to fight for your own survival and freedom, then maybe you don't deserve it, and you really have no right to expect others to do the dirty work for you and hand you these things on a silver platter.

We detached this comment from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11217648 and marked it off-topic.

So if they want to avoid this, it's up to them to rise up and revolt against ISIS. If they don't, oh well. If you're not willing to fight for your own survival and freedom, then maybe you don't deserve it, and you really have no right to expect others to do the dirty work for you and hand you these things on a silver platter.

And these people back in 2003 were asking for the USA-led coalition to invade their own country, topple the government, wreck the country's infrastructure, and leave a power-vacuum in its place? A vacuum filled in by local warlords and ethnic-cleansing militias?

I dispute the idea that we in the West have no responsibility here to help.

Unless you're a GOP voter (and not a Trump voter), then it's obvious that in 2003, Iraqis were not asking for their country to be invaded.

However, since we made such a mess of it before, what makes you think we're going to do any better with another invasion and setting up another unpopular government? The people in that region don't like the government we set up because the Shias are too powerful; they want a government like what they had before, where the Sunnis have all the power, and the Shias and Kurds get stomped on. Are you willing to give them that government? If not, you're not going to get their support, and ISIS (or similar) is.

You may claim that the West has a responsibility to help, but I claim that the West cannot help, and that there is no way for us, a bunch of outsiders, to make the situation better. Only the people there can fix the problem for themselves. We cannot do it for them. If we try, we will fail, and they will not appreciate it or agree with our methods.

> The people in that region don't like the government we set up [...]

And they didn't like all those borders we drew for them.

Ungrateful lot, I say.

Well, that goes right back to what I said about them not appreciating our methods.

Yes, a lot of this mess is due to the way the British drew the borders there in the wake of WWI. However, has there been any effort to redraw those borders? Hell no. The Kurds would certainly like to see the borders redrawn; it's obvious to anyone with a brain and some idea of the situation there that the borders are making the problems worse, but no one with power wants to change the borders. There's too many vested interests who want to keep their borders: Turkey doesn't want to cede any land to the Kurds (it has oil on it IIRC). Iraq doesn't want to cede any land to the Kurds (oil again). The Sunnis in Iraq don't want to lose control of the country because their portion has no oil. The Shias in Iraq would be happy to separate from the Sunnis because they do have oil. Saudi Arabia doesn't want the Shias to take control of the oil-rich areas and leave the Sunnis with a bunch of sand, because the Saudis are also Sunni and hate Shias. It's just a total mess, and pushing ourselves on the place yet again to try to fix it is going to be just as successful as the last time we tried. The only way to really fix it is to invade the whole region, take it ALL over (including SA and Iran and Turkey too, even though this could start a war with Europe, might as well throw in Egypt and Israel while we're at it), then redraw all the borders and set up all new governments run by dictators for a while. Obviously that's not going to happen, so the only sane alternative is to just stay out of it, except maybe for lending a little assistance here and there to deal with really awful groups like ISIS where pretty much everyone (including Russia) agrees that they need to go.

> everyone (including Russia) agrees

Russia doesn't care about ISIS - Russian soldiers shot down a commercial airliner.

> the only sane alternative is to just stay out of it

"Stay" implies that we're out and not going in. Cutting and running would be closer to the truth in this case...

Your argument is that we should just walk away from the mess we've created because it looks hard to solve. "Whups, pouring gasoline on it didn't put it out, let's take off and grab a beer."

None of these "leave the area to solve its own problems" ever include actually leaving, just continuing our meddling from a distance. It'd do a lot of good if we simply stopped backing the wrong side. We give Turkey a fair bit of assistance in keeping the kurdish areas under control, not the least of which is calling Kurdish independence movements terrorists.

> However, has there been any effort to redraw those borders? Hell no.

Well actually, yes. You know the Kurds - they've been trying to redraw them since the ink was wet. Something about genocide...

>Russia doesn't care about ISIS - Russian soldiers shot down a commercial airliner.

WTF does that have to do with ISIS? That was in Ukraine.

Russia didn't mean to shoot down a commercial airliner. They thought it was a Ukrainian military cargo plane. Of course, when they found out it wasn't, they tried to cover it up because they were claiming the Russian army wasn't in Ukraine to begin with and that those were Ukrainian "rebels". But it's not like they actually meant to shoot down a passenger plane.

As for ISIS, yes they do care about ISIS. Russia backs the Assad regime, because they want access to Syria's port on the Mediterranian Sea. ISIS threatens the Assad regime, so ISIS is their natural enemy, along with anyone else who threatens the Assad regime.

And honestly, we should be backing the Assad regime too (or at least now working against it). It's the best hope that country has for stability. All the rebel groups are Islamists, so they're worse for stability and worse for human rights and worse for minority group rights. This happens every time we topple some "evil dictator" over there: it turns out the dictator was actually very tolerant of religious or ethnic minorities, as long as they didn't try to overthrow him (case in point: the Yazidis in Iraq). But then we topple the dictator, some "democratic" government gets installed that's mostly Islamists, and the minorities get stomped on. Nations in that region need dictators, not democracy.

>"Stay" implies that we're out and not going in. Cutting and running would be closer to the truth in this case...

Any why is that wrong? We're not willing to improve the situation there, we're only willing to make it worse. Proof: that's all we've done.

>It'd do a lot of good if we simply stopped backing the wrong side.

Yeah, and it'd do a lot of good if humans stopped having wars, and stopped being selfish. I don't see that happening any time soon.

>We give Turkey a fair bit of assistance in keeping the kurdish areas under control, not the least of which is calling Kurdish independence movements terrorists.

Exactly. So how do we change that? Simple: we don't, because we're not willing to change that. The politics are too complicated (Turkey is a NATO member after all), so we're not willing to directly oppose Turkey and ally ourselves with the Kurds and promote independence there.

As I see it, we have options: 1) stop backing the wrong side as you say, and start working to improve things there, or 2) get out. Well, we're obviously not willing to do #1, we've been doing the opposite of #1 for decades now, no matter who gets elected President, so that only leaves one choice, #2.

>Well actually, yes. You know the Kurds

They've been trying to redraw borders, yes; what I meant was, has there been any effort by Western powers to redraw those borders (since the complaint here is how we screwed up in how we (after WWI) drew those borders to begin with. And the answer there is no. The western powers have done absolutely nothing to try to redraw the borders. Some groups there would like new borders, but other groups don't (the ones who want new borders usually sit on valuable resources that the other ones want to maintain control of), and we back the wrong sides consistently, so we don't.

> Russia didn't mean to shoot down a commercial airliner. They thought it was a Ukrainian military cargo plane. Of course, when they found out it wasn't, they tried to cover it up because

But when they were found to have done it, it was covered up. And yes, because it would have interfered with another lie of theirs, not that it's a defense.

> Russia backs the Assad regime, because they want access to Syria's port on the Mediterranian Sea. ISIS threatens the Assad regime

As I said. Russia doesn't care about ISIS, Russia cares about a handy puppet state. If ISIS turned back-around into Iraq Russia would stop fighting them. If Russia kills more people than ISIS in freeing the country they won't care at all.

> we should be backing the Assad regime too

Hmmm, yeah. No. Shooting ISIS is awesome, helping a dictator is not. If we actually collaborate to help Assad hold the Syrians hostage, we're as bad as ISIS.

> Exactly. So how do we change that? Simple: we don't, because we're not willing to

Because you're far enough from the problem that blowback rarely hits you. If you actually faced even a small percentage of the problems you caused from it you wouldn't be able to lose interest so often.

The truth is that ISIS isn't a big issue to the USA as long as oil flows. You're not willing to - for the cost/benefit in this case.

> has there been any effort by Western powers to redraw those borders

No, in fact Western powers sold Iraq poison gas to avoid the issue.

But the fact of the matter is that isolationism doesn't work. Terrorists will bring the war to you, especially if you're perceived as having meddled.

Commit to fixing it, or expect to paying for more over time as you continually half-fix it.

>But when they were found to have done it, it was covered up. And yes, because it would have interfered with another lie of theirs, not that it's a defense.

You were trying to claim that Russia intentionally shot down a passenger plane, when it's obvious that they didn't.

>As I said. Russia doesn't care about ISIS, Russia cares about a handy puppet state. If ISIS turned back-around into Iraq Russia would stop fighting them. If Russia kills more people than ISIS in freeing the country they won't care at all.

So, yes, Russia DOES care about ISIS. If ISIS magically teleported to the Moon and turned into pink unicorns, then Russia would stop caring about them, but that's about as likely as ISIS turning around and staying in Iraq, so it's pointless to discuss such possibilities.

>Hmmm, yeah. No. Shooting ISIS is awesome, helping a dictator is not. If we actually collaborate to help Assad hold the Syrians hostage, we're as bad as ISIS.

And you're as clueless as George W Bush. How do you propose to deal with the power vacuum when you get rid of ISIS and Assad? Just let the other Islamist groups like Al Nusra take over? Great plan! Or no, I know, let's have elections and set up a democracy!! Yeah, that worked so great in Egypt, where they elected the Muslim Brotherhood!

And how are the Syrians being "held hostage" anyway? A large chunk of the Syrian population wants the Assad regime, just like a large chunk of the Iraqi population was happy with the Saddam regime.

You have three choices: back a dictator, help Islamists overthrow the dictator, or stay out of it. I don't see how #2, your choice, is at all morally defensible.

>Commit to fixing it, or expect to paying for more over time as you continually half-fix it.

You haven't actually come up with any kind of viable plan to "fix" the problem, other than putting more people like ISIS and Al Qaeda in charge.

> You were trying

I know what I'm trying. And you're wrong. I'm not claiming Putin wanted an airliner shot down. I'm saying that when Putin's forces shot down an airliner he kept supporting them.

In other words, Russia doesn't care.

> So, yes, Russia DOES care about ISIS.

No. Because if ISIS wandered off into Iraq, they'd be done.

>> If we actually collaborate > How do you propose to deal with the power vacuum

You want to plug it with a dictator? Brilliant.

> how are the Syrians being "held hostage" anyway?

Their dictator has ordered his security forces to fire on civilians.

> A large chunk of the Syrian population wants the Assad regime

Got a fair vote that shows that? And see below.

> just like a large chunk of the Iraqi population was happy with the Saddam regime.

Yeah, those in his good books, whose power came from him.

But it's irrelevant anyways because even popular support for an illegal government (ie, not recognizing human rights) doesn't legitimize it.

> You haven't actually come up with any kind of viable plan to "fix" the problem

Move the goalposts much? It's not the job of the guy who says "Stop throwing gas on the fire" to have the entire roadmap planned out.

You're the one who proposes we take an active stance - to shift our alliances and protect a dictator we'd previously told to leave power. You want to commit military resources. The burden of proof is on you.

You can blame ISIS all you want, but aren't the 1M people who'll be affected by this basically supporters of ISIS? As you said, they're ISIS's own citizens. So basically they're being hoist by their own petard.

Every nation gets the government it deserves.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11217648 and marked it off-topic.

Do you seriously believe that an organization known for publicly beheading people, imposing arbitrary violent pseudo-Islamic rule, cultural genocide, etc... is supported by a significant part of the population of the territory they took over?

The answer is - no, they are not basically supporters of ISIS. A few certainly are, but not many. They're people trapped under the tyrannical rule of strongmen who came to power in a vacuum because ... the people did not have the government they deserve.

They may or may not have the government they want, but they certainly have the government they deserve. Every nation of people does.

If you're not willing to stand up and fight when a tiny number of people is oppressing you, then why do you deserve anything better? Who else is supposed to liberate you? Do you think that you're entitled to having a bunch of foreigners come risk their lives to liberate you from your own people (ISIS is headed by people who are native to the area, they're not foreigners, though many of their fighters are). That sounds like a pretty big entitlement mentality to me.

The power vacuum you talk of only existed because the people in that area allowed it to exist.

And yes, I do believe that a significant part of the population of their territory supports their actions. And no, their ruls is not "pseudo-Islamic", it's Islamic in the truest sense. Go read the Islamic holy books: they're following them to the letter. They're doing Islam correctly, just like every fundamentalist does their religion correctly; everyone else just cherry-picks the parts they like and ignores or whitewashes the really horrible parts.

At some point, a government will have an insurmountable military advantage, against which any resistance by its population is futile.

> At some point, a government will have an insurmountable military advantage, against which any resistance by its population is futile.

Most successful resistance by populations against the government have had the resisting part of the population overlapping the military. (Conversely, most popular resistance where this has not been the case has failed.)

So this is, generally, already the case, but in a sense somewhat less significant than is implied.

I suppose if you have an entirely automated and tamper-proof, self-maintaining and reproducing, military with the senior government decision makers as the only humans in the loop the situation becomes a bit different and there becomes a qualitative difference where popular resistance can no longer spread to include the military.

That makes no sense at all. The only way governments have "insurmountable advantage" is if they have more firepower and people willing to use that firepower than people willing to oppose them (plus their firepower). Governments do not (yet) have armies of robotic soldiers willing to do their bidding without question; this isn't the Clone Wars or droid wars or whatever. Governments need armies to do their military will, and those armies are composed of the People. This is why governments generally don't succeed at oppressing their own people; they can't get their military to go along with it. Now, of course, if the government is oppressing some other people (i.e., they invaded a foreign country), or they're oppressing some hated/demonized minority, that's another matter. The French and Polish didn't have much say in being oppressed by Nazi Germany, nor did the Jews/Gypsies/Roma there. However, the German people were not oppressed by the Nazis: they willingly elected them, and happily went along with their rule (except for some small minority of resistance forces).

I challenge you to show me any example of a government which was absolutely hated by its people and somehow managed to hold onto power. I don't think there is any. Every government gets popular support from somewhere, or else they wouldn't have an army to maintain their rule with. With occupations, it comes from the occupying nation. With places like Saddam's Iraq, it came from one powerful portion of the population that happily stomped on the other portions. With places like North Korea, it comes from a population that's been brainwashed into thinking the Dear Leader is basically a demigod.

> Every nation gets the government it deserves.

This is a somewhat radical stance. When an armed group seizes the control of a city, the citizens don't always have the ability to fight back.

There are plenty of people who are risking their lives and have lost it in ISIS control territory, telling them they "deserved" it is really rash.

Let's reverse the point of view and let's take 1M of Americans. Do you think I will find 1M Obama supporter?

You have basically the ISIS stance, if you are living in the West, Muslim or not, you are an enemy and thus you deserve to be blown up.

Do I think you'll find 1M people in America who support Obama's administration? Um, yes... He was elected by about half the population, after all. I can easily find 1M people who still prefer to have him as President. Heck, right now with our current frontrunners, there's people who'd like to have another 4 or 8 years of Obama rather than Trump or Hillary.

Now with Mosul, we're talking about 1M people. That's far, far more than the number of active ISIS fighters and other staff in the city. Have you never heard of guerilla warfare? If a population revolts, there isn't much a poorly-led and ill-trained military force can do to stop them. The people there are not revolting, so they're either cowards or complicit (and likely both). The people always have the ability to fight back, even if it has to be done as a war of attrition (use makeshift weapons to ambush small numbers of ISIS troops). Even in Nazi Germany and occupied France, there were resistance efforts from the local populations. Ever hear of the Maquis? ISIS doesn't have anywhere remotely near the resources and training that the Wehrmacht had in occupied France.

Commenters are required to post civilly and substantively, or not at all. It's bad enough that you are uncivil to your fellow users, and worse that you start religious flamewars. But blaming a million people for their own prospective drowning because you say they're Isis supporters (a ridiculous claim about a group known to terrorize the populations it rules over), and therefore have it coming to them, is far outside any civil discourse, even about politics. If you do it again you will forfeit the right to post here.

dang, where is he being uncivil or unsubstantive in the parent post? I simply don't see it.

I don't see that he's 'blaming a million people for their own prospective drowning,' but rather blaming a million people for their current government, which is something very different.

I don't particularly agree with either his argument or his style of expression, but I believe that he's very much within the norms of HN, and certainly doesn't deserve to be banned for it.

> dang, where is he being uncivil or unsubstantive in the parent post? I simply don't see it.

That's because the comment has been edited.

Now you're either being ignorant or lying. I edited the post after he made his comment that he didn't think it was uncivil. Check the logs.

I don't see it either.

Thank you. I'll admit I frequently tend to adopt an unconventional viewpoint out of left field and pose that; you can get some really good debates going that way.

Nice that you don't allow different opinions around here. Maybe you should make a FAQ listing which opinions are OK and which aren't.

And "religious flamewars"? All I did was point out the reality of religion.

My post was civil enough, I called his comment stupid because I misunderstood it. Another poster, far more helpful than yourself, pointed out my error to me.

You don't get to be rude because you misunderstand someone—if that were the rule, we might as well not have it.

> Nice that you don't allow different opinions

Half the people who break the rules here resort to that self-flattering defense (the other half simply correct their behavior), and one needn't read much of HN to see how false it is.

> All I did was point out the reality of religion.

That's what every religious flamewarrer says. You can't do it here.

I can't criticize religion here? Religion is sacrosanct and can't be cricitized in any way? I guess you're an ISIS supporter then, because criticizing them means you're criticizing their religion.

That's obviously not what I mean. If you keep trolling HN, we will ban you.

I'm not trolling, you just don't like my opinions.

FYI, he meant if there were 1M people in a random geographic area with a dam that was going to collapse, would all of those 1M people be Obama supporters? The answer is no, there would be a mix.

Ok, sorry if I misunderstood, I thought he was one of these anti-Obama people trying to claim that Obama was that unpopular.

Anyway, sure, if 1M Americans were threatened by a failing dam, and Obama refused to fix the dam and instead took actions to prevent fixing it or worse, somehow aggravate the situation, then no, I doubt many of those 1M would be supporters of his. However, Obama is also not a religious leader. Throw fundamentalist religion in there and that changes the equation entirely. Just look at all the Americans who resolutely believe that climate change is a "hoax", or worse, that evolution is (and that the earth is 6000 years old), because their religious leaders tell them this. That's likely what's going on in ISIS-land. So we could try my leafleting campaign to educate the populace there as to the reality and direness of their situation, but I kinda doubt they'd believe it. Not only do you have a bunch of religious leaders telling them otherwise, but there's also a human tendency to circle wagons around their own people/leaders (no matter how awful) and fight against any outsiders.

Who cares. It's been known about for decades and predictions of impending disaster made for a dozen years. At this point I don't care one bit what happens to anyone. This is totally and utterly foreseeable. Not my problem. Liquidate your assets and send your donations to Iraq if you want to help; quit trying to whip up the bleeding hearts to spend other people's money.

"pressure on the dam’s compromised structure was building up rapidly as winter snows melted and more water flowed into the reservoir"

Do they really have snow worth to speak of in Iraq?

The Mosul dam is on the Tigris river which originates in the Taurus mountains of Turkey. We had a fairly regular winter as far as snowfall goes, but the spring has arrived very early this year.

So this is Turkey's fault. They ought to redirect the river into the Black Sea or directly into the Mediterranean Sea. Other solutions are selling it as bottled water (with a suitably high price: buy this water or the children die!) or boiling it off to cool a power plant.

According to the Paul Krugmans and other neo-Keynesians, it would be an economic boon. Imagine all the destruction that would need to be re-built!

So they were working on fixing this but the west imposed sanctions in the 90s and stopped work.

"There is no permanent solution except building another dam,” Ansari said. A second structure, the Badush dam, was started 20km downstream, to prevent a catastrophe in the event of the Mosul dam’s failure. But work on Badush halted in the 1990s because of the pressure of sanctions, leaving it only 40% complete."

Interesting that you can find a way to blame this on the West when Saddam could just have complied with the UN (who imposed the sanctions, not the "West"), had the sactions removed, and given his people a better life.

Actually, the US wanted Saddam away just the same like they wanted Assad away. There was nothing Saddam could do except for allowing the US to take over the whole country and prosecute (and kill) him.

That's why the info about WMD was faked, both by the US and the UK. The UK was extreme, doing copy paste of the works of students from the internet. It's an interesting read.

The UK articles from 2003(!):



"The Government was accused of attempting to mislead Parliament and the general public after it emerged a dossier of evidence against Saddam Hussein was largely lifted from a Californian postgraduate student's outdated thesis."

Not to mention the war in 2003 and everything afterwards, as presented by Bush (even if he hasn't personally developed the plan), it was "to bring democracy" there.

Since the US was effectively for years in charge there, since 2003, theoretically, there was certainly enough time and money to finish the second dam.

The US was trying to provide "aid" in protecting the dam in 2007 - I have no idea if it was taken on as a legitimate project or just wallpaper to say "see how we're helping".

I don't have time for fun conspiracy theories, but I'm sure lines can be traced all around construction of the dam, through the bush family, back to infrastructure, etc.

The estimated cost of finishing the second dam is much bigger than the "aid" from the link (the aid was meager $27m, split to 21 contractor), but still orders of magnitude lower that the money spent by the US only on the military in Iraq.

Therefore not surprising, from the 2007 article behind your link:

"In a report published on Tuesday, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) said US-funded "short-term solutions" had yet to significantly solve the dam's problems."

To compare:


"Iraq war costs U.S. more than $2 trillion"

If I calculate correctly, enough for 74,000 such "aid" fixes.

Something tells me they want to use the risk of a failing dam as a weapon to pursue Mosul population to rise against ISIS. Or that they just don't care if 1M+ died in an ISIS stronghold.

I think chances of ISIS themselves blowing it up when pushed away are greater.

Those guys are crazy. Not very competent, but crazy.

How difficult is it to blow up the dam such that the water rushes out? I mean bombing a place to kill people is easy, but I have no idea if you have to hit specific spots on the dam or whether it is enough to just hit any area.

The allies (the RAF) had fairly specialized bombs in WWII to blow dams. They would fly in from upstream and drop a bomb shaped like a barrel (picture a barrel of oil) from very low altitude. The bomb would skip along the surface as it lost momentum and then sink close to the dam wall. At a certain pressure it would blow and take advantage of the hydrostatic shock to break up the wall.

See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Chastise


One of the most interesting things IMO was how they used angled lights under the planes - shone onto the surface of the reservoir to make sure they were at the correct altitude to drop the bomb (incorrect height and it wouldn't skip)

They were trying to do something completely different, with different limitations than Islamic State has. They can get a few operatives up to the dam and place the explosives, but they probably don't have access to planes or the ability to build such specialized bombs.

"Bouncing Bettys"

That's slang for a jumping anti-personnel mine

Yes, they are also called that. I think the dam-buster bombs had the nickname first.

The article says the Iraqi government has hired an Italian contractor to reinforce and maintain the dam. This presumably makes the massive-disaster scenario described in the Guardian's rather clickbaity headline somewhat less likely.

Edit: fair enough, it might not be as simple as just hiring some engineers to fix it; I hadn't considered the location. But still: when the news event that happened yesterday is that some engineers were hired to fix the dam, I think it's a bit disingenuous to therefore run a story with a headline saying "dam on brink of collapse, may kill one million."

The problem is that the Italian contractor refuses to work unless the Italian army is allowed to send a unit to defend them. Last I'd heard, the Iraqi government is withholding their approval for this.

Considering the propension of the Iraqi military to run away when faced with ill-equipped, outnumbered opponents, I can't blame the contractor.

Some Soviet engineers ended up having a particularly nasty end when they were captured while working on the infamous Kajaki dam in Afghanistan.

And the problem of getting workforce and the required plant to the location in the middle of a low level civil war.

Not necessarily. Mosul is ISIS's stronghold and what happens if they don't take too kindly to the 450 Italian troops + workers over there working on the dam that's next to their main city?

It seems quite against their self-interests to stop the work, but you never know with this level of crazy.

Fighting with heavy weaponry (such as artillery) around the dam is probably not in their interest either (potentially flooding their 'capital').

Shells tend to have a negative effect on structural stability.

On the the other hand obviously while they were holding the dam it was apparently free for all machinery looting season, which is not to clever if you plan to establish your headquarter downstream.

They ought to be able to finance the project by borrowing against the proceeds of the movie they make about the whole ordeal

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