The Most Dangerous Dam in the World: Mosul Dam

Middle East & North Africa

The Mosul Dam is in danger of collapse due to the increased rainstorms and the resulting flood would be devastating. As Iraq’s largest dam, it would send a 15 foot wall of water down the river to Baghdad and Mosul would be engulfed in a flood. The immediate impact would result in approximately 500,000 people’s deaths and the environmental impact could severely harm the quality of life for people in the Nineveh, Kirkuk, and Salahadin provinces. Specifically, the resulting famine and disease would affect the region for years to come.

   Maintenance work on the dam is the Iraqi government’s responsibility, but has not taken place since 2014. The necessary repairs to stop the erosion are estimated at a cost of $250 million to $500 million, according to members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party MP in the Kurdistan parliament.

    The threat of demise arises from the soil foundation of the dam. It is built on water soluble soils that must be constantly replenished to prevent collapse. The combination of gypsum, anhydrite, marl, and limestone continually dissolve in water. 

   The Mosul Dam was once known as Saddam Dam. Constructed in 1983, it stands 113 meters high and 3650 meters long along the Tigris River. It is the second largest dam in the Middle East and provides electricity to 1.7 million residents in Mosul.

   Following the immediate wave, disease would surely follow. Water-borne diseases, such as cholera would run ramped. Iraq already experienced a cholera outbreak in September due to the influx of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Floods typically submerge with sewer systems, which would only intensify the outbreak. The strength of the water deluge from the Mosul Dam would also destroy several buildings which could contain an array of toxic materials such as paints and gasoline.

   The danger of the Mosul Dam isn’t solely structural. In August of 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized the dam, but Kurdish peshmerga forces took it back. Sitting on the frontline, there is no doubt a collapse would have a significant impact on the battle between ISIS and the peshmerga forces.

   However, Iraqi officials are dismissing the US reports of the danger as alarmist.  A US Army Corps of  Engineers report stated that decomposition of the soil is occurring at a faster rate than it did before construction in 2007. The report went so far as to call the dam the most dangerous in the world.

   If repairs are not made as soon as possible, Iraq will have another national crisis to deal with.



More than Numbers: A Snapshot of Life as a Syrian Refugee

Middle East & North Africa

I have the privilege of volunteering for the Rise Foundation’s Castle Art Project at the Akre Syrian Refugee Camp every Friday in Iraq. Originally one of Saddam Hussein’s prison camps, the project aims to empower the children to change their desolate environment by painting murals.

For most, the Syrian refugee crisis is a long number and a tragedy. At least, that’s the general response I get from people back home. But that long number ( estimated at 9.5 million) is made up of faces, hands, and hearts that feel just like ours. That tragedy is someone’s life story, for better or worse.

Rather than rant about how we should look at and treat the refugee crisis, I’d like to show you some of the profound people I’ve been lucky enough to meet. Be sure to check out the Castle Art Project as well.



















The Fate of Democracy in Kurdistan


   In a region of staggering instability, President Massoud Barzani has maintained steadfast control over his government and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Originally appointed to the presidency by Parliament in 2005, he has a decade long legacy of moderate policies, democratic enhancements, and a strong history of security. However, his golden age of power was meant to sunset on August 19, 2015.

   The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is insisting on a 2 year extension because of security threats in the region. This may sound familiar, because Barzani’s term was already extended in 2013 by 2 years before ISIS was even a significant threat.

   When his term was last extended, Article 1 of Law number 19 of the Kurdish parliament stated, “The term of the president that expires on August 20, 2013, will be extended until August 19, 2015, and cannot be extended for a second time.”

   The KDP has tried arguing that since Barzani was technically appointed to the presidency by Parliament in 2005 and not elected until 2009, he should be legally able to run for another term. They’ve also tried petitioning the Kurdistan Consultative Council to rule on whether or not Barzani can extend his term once more, but the request never came to fruition due to the unrequited required approval by the Speaker of Parliament.

    Realistically, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is in no shape financially or security-wise to host an electoral election. The lack of financial support would make it impossible for the High Electoral Commission to run an election at all, never mind a fair one.

   However, a 12 year term as president is not in the region’s best interest either. History shows that centralized power in the hands of one individual makes them virtually the only decision-maker after a certain period of time. Presidential dominance will drive away the best potential officials who will go abroad or into private business instead because of the lack of opportunity. Countless examples of the negative effects of long terms in office can be seen in many of Africa’s leaders such as President Museveni of Uganda, President Bashir of Sudan, President Kabila of Congo, and many more. That’s not to mention the Middle East’s reputation for dictatorial governments stemming from the extension of originally elected terms.

   Of course, term limits place some restrictions on democratic choice, but governments with weak institutional restraints on executive power generally have more substantial problems to worry about. Even if Barzani is the best politician for the job, the region of Kurdistan would benefit from a change in power on an institutional stability basis. Furthermore, there’s no law to say that Barzani can’t act as an advisor in some official or unofficial capacity to the new President.

   To solve the issue of leadership most quickly, cost effectively, and securely Parliament should elect a qualified President accepted by the majority of political parties in the region. International leaders, such as the United States, can help make this transition successful by voicing support and continuing the under the table involvement in Kurdistan’s politics.