Speed Reads

Crisis in Iraq

Why ISIS' seizure of the 'most dangerous dam in the world' is such a big deal

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized control of Iraq's largest hydroelectric dam today, The New York Times reports. If that sounds familiar, that's because on Sunday there were also reports that ISIS had seized this incredibly strategic asset from forces loyal to Kurdistan, the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq. We'll see if the Kurds can take it back this time, too.

So, why is this dam so critical? It not only generates about 30 percent of Iraq's electricity, it can also be turned into a terrifying weapon. Here's a refresher from our partner Foreign Policy:

[S]cientists say the destruction or failure of the Mosul Dam could unleash up to 50 million gallons of water per second on Mosul, covering more than half of Iraq's second-largest city under 25 meters of water within hours and deluging Baghdad under four meters of water inside of three days. So there's that. It's also a staggeringly easy piece of infrastructure to compromise, thanks to an unstable, water-soluble foundation that needs constant reinforcement to preserve its structural integrity. That shoddy craftsmanship earned it the title of "most dangerous dam in the world," in a 2006 assessment by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. [Foreign Policy]

If it's true that ISIS has taken the dam this time, then the Corps of Engineers' assessment will have double resonance indeed.