US citizens are being urged to leave Iraq before the Mosul dam collapses

Mosul Dam in Iraq

The United States government is urging US citizens to prepare for an Iraq exit in the event that the country’s largest hydro-electric dam near Mosul collapses. 

Iraqi officials have attempted to down play the risk of that scenario but officials in Washington are taking no chances.

A U.S. security message cited estimates that Mosul, which is northern Iraq’s largest city and under control of Islamic State insurgents, could be drowned in 70 feet of water within hours of the breach.

Other cities along the Tigris River such as Tikrit, Samarra and the Iraqi capital Baghdad could be hit with small water issues within 24-72 hours.

“We have no specific information that indicates when a breach might occur, but out of an abundance of caution, we would like to underscore that prompt evacuation offers the most effective tool to save lives of the hundreds of thousands of people,” the security message said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Sunday precautions were being taken, but described the likelihood of such a scenario as “extremely small”.

The dam was seized by the Islamic State in 2014, raising fears that it could be blown up to drown Mosul and Baghdad. The dam was recaptured by Iraqi government forces two weeks later.

Now, officials are worried that a disruption of maintenance operations has increased the likelihood of a breach.

An Italian company has been hired to make urgent repairs to the dam, which has been much neglected since its construction in the 1980s.

Iraq’s minister of water resources says there is only a “one in a thousand” chance the dam would collapse.