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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 October 2007, 11:40 GMT
Iraq dismisses Mosul Dam warnings
A view of Mosul Dam

The Iraqi government has dismissed a US warning that Iraq's largest dam is at imminent risk of collapse and is threatening the lives of thousands.

Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said US claims that Mosul Dam, in the country's north, was the most dangerous in the world were inaccurate and "totally untrue".

Mr Dabbagh said it was under constant observation and regularly maintained.

In May, the US told Iraq a catastrophic collapse could unleash a 20m (65ft) wave on Mosul, a city of 1.7 million.

There are teams working round-the-clock to strengthen the dam
Ali al-Dabbagh
Iraqi government spokesman

The warning was published on Tuesday in a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), which said that the dam's foundations could give away at any moment.

SIGIR found that a $27m (13m) US-funded reconstruction project, recently begun to help shore up the dam, had made little or no progress.

It said the "short-term solutions" had been plagued by mismanagement and potential fraud.

'Precautionary measures'

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Iraqi government insisted it was taking steps to reduce the risk and did not believe there was cause for alarm.

An aerial view of the Mosul dam and its flood plain.

"These reports are not accurate and are totally untrue," Mr Dabbagh said.

Mr Dabbagh said Mosul Dam was observed 24 hours a day and that "all precautionary measures in terms of maintenance are regularly carried out."

"There are teams working round-the-clock to strengthen the dam," he added.

Mr Dabbagh said there were operations to pump grouting into the dam's foundations and to reduce water levels in the reservoir.

The Minister of Water Resources, Latif Rashid, told the BBC on Tuesday that work would also begin next year on a longer-term plan to make the foundations safe by encasing them in a concrete curtain.

'Fundamentally flawed'

The dam, 45 miles upstream of Mosul on the River Tigris, has been a problem for Iraqi engineers since it was constructed in 1984.

It was built on water-soluble gypsum, which caused seepage within months of its completion and led investigators to describe the site as "fundamentally flawed".

Iraqi workers carry out grouting work at Mosul dam
A US-funded reconstruction project is helping to shore up the dam

In September 2006, the US Army Corps of Engineers determined that the dam presented an unacceptable risk.

"In terms of internal erosion potential of the foundation, Mosul Dam is the most dangerous dam in the world," the corps warned, according to the SIGIR report. "If a small problem [at] Mosul Dam occurs, failure is likely."

The top US military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker wrote in May to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki urging him to make fixing the dam a "national priority".

"A catastrophic failure of the Mosul Dam would result in flooding along the Tigris River all the way to Baghdad," the letter on 3 May warned.

"Assuming a worst-case scenario, an instantaneous failure of Mosul Dam filled to its maximum operating level could result in a flood wave 20m deep at the city of Mosul, which would result in a significant loss of life and property."

If that were to happen some have predicted that as many as 500,000 people could be killed.

annotated image of Mosul Dam
Mosul Dam is Middle East's fourth largest dam in reservoir capacity and Iraq's largest
Key component in Iraq's national power grid, with four 200 megawatt (MW) turbines generating 320 MW of electricity a day
Built on water-soluble gypsum, which causes seepage. Subsequent erosion creates cavities beneath dam that must be plugged or "grouted" on a regular basis or dam will fail, say experts
Array of piezometers have been deployed to measure water pressure and leakage
Seismic equipment provides information to monitor dam's stability
US-funded reconstruction project - costing $27m (13m) - to help shore up the dam has made "little or no progress" since 2005 to significantly improve basic grouting capability of the Iraqi Ministry of Water and Resources at the dam, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR)

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