Italy’s prime minister has announced that the country will send 450 soldiers to protect Iraq’s most important dam, The Local reports.
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced that the troops will be deployed to protect the Mosul Dam from the extremist group ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. The militants currently control the city of Mosul, which is just more than 30 miles from the dam.
Speaking on national television Tuesday, Renzi announced that the initial call for soldiers to be deployed to the dam came from an Italian company that has an economic interest in the dam.
“The call [to protect the dam] was made by an Italian company … and we will send 450 of our men there to help protect it alongside the Americans,” Renzi said.
The Italian construction and energy company Trevi has a major interest in ensuring the well-being of the dam.
Trevi recently secured a contract worth $1.97 billion aimed at providing maintenance to the dam and ensuring that it maintains its structural integrity. The deployment of the Italian soldiers will help shore up the security situation immediately around the dam, allowing for Trevi to begin desperately needed construction work.
In 2007, the US Army Corps of Engineers found that the dam had an “exceptionally high” probability of failure. An estimated half-million people were predicted to die from the dam’s collapse due to flooding, power outages, loss of farmland, and eventual drought and famine.
The Army also found that the dam is inherently unstable. If ISIS disrupts maintenance of the dam, its structure could deteriorate and the dam could be breached out of sheer neglect.
In a worst-case scenario, a breach could flood Baghdad and wipe out 250 square kilometers of farmland.
“If the dam fails,” Keith Johnson of Foreign Policy noted, “scientists say Mosul could be completely flooded within hours and a 15-foot wall of water could crash into Baghdad.”
The Local reports that the 450 Italian troops being deployed to the dam will augment the 750 currently deployed in Iraq.
The Mosul Dam is currently held by the Kurdish Peshmerga. The Kurds took control of the dam after it was briefly held by ISIS in the summer of 2014.
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