A team of Italian soldiers and engineers has arrived at the site of the Mosul dam on the river Tigris to begin emergency repairs to the structure.
The soldiers arrived last Thursday, 14 April, and secured the area for the engineers, who arrived on Tuesday, 19 April, according to Iraqi news site NRT.
The urgency is due to the increasing pressure on the structure as winter snows melt in the mountains of Turkey and flow into the upstream lake. Normally this would be relieved by opening sluice gates, but these are jammed shut.
Meanwhile the physical integrity of the dam and its foundations is believed to be deteriorating.
The government of Iraq has signed a €273m ($296m) contract with Trevi Spa to reinforce and maintain the Mosul dam for 18 months. This contract was signed on 2 March after intensive negotiations, according to Italian news website Ansa. The tender was let in October last year.
Trevi Spa is the division of Trevi Group that specialises in foundations. The company said in a statement that it would drill into the gypsum beneath the dam and inject cement mixtures to consolidate its foundations. It would also repair and maintain the outlet tunnels and train Iraqi staff to operate the dam’s machinery.
The Italian team is also preparing a camp on site to house about 450 engineers and 500 military personnel, as well as Iraqi troops. The Italian security force is thought to be made up of units of the Garibaldi Brigade with armoured vehicles, as well as special forces, sappers and air support. They will protect workers from attack by Islamic State (IS) fighters, who hold the nearby city of Mosul.
On 24 March the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces launched a major offensive with American support to retake Mosul, a city of approximately 2 million people.
American and local officials have repeatedly warned that the dam is at risk of catastrophic failure, which could lead to the deaths of as many as a million people in the downstream Tigris valley.
Maintenance of the dam was suspended after IS seized it in August 2014, scattering workers and destroying equipment. It was retaken two weeks later by Iraqi government forces backed by air strikes.
Image: The dam was built by a German-Italian team and completed in 1984. It was built on a gypsum base and requires continual re-grouting to preserve stability (Trevi)