For those unaware, the Mosul Dam is in danger of imminent collapse. If that happens, the estimates of those expected to be killed lie somewhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million. Mosul will be submerged, Tikrit will be hit with a 50 foot tidal wave, and even distant Baghdad will have flooding of around 10 to 15 feet throughout.
Rather serious stuff, right? So when did we learn about this problem? The answer is right around the time it was built in the 1980’s, when it was discovered that it was placed on faulty foundations. The solution has more or less been to inject the dam with grout continuously for decades on end to prevent it from toppling. It’s almost literally like dealing with a continuously bleeding patient by just keeping transfusions going on a daily basis for years on end. That said, it kept things working, in a good enough Iraq kind of way.
In any event, since 2007, there have been rather serious warnings of more dire danger, and these reached a fever pitch with the ISIS takeover of Mosul and the dam in 2014. ISIS, it seems, didn’t much see the point of continuing the grouting, which is curious. (You have no sense of decency or shame, no value you can attribute to the lives of other human beings as opposed to their sacrifice. This, we understand. But do you have a sense of self preservation? You’re in the path of the flood.)
In any event, when the dam was returned, the grouting resumed, but at a reduced rate because ISIS controlled the nearby cement processing facilities, and, you know, who wants to truck cement in from anywhere else? The US Army Corps of Engineers examines it, describes it as a moderate risk of failure, explains the catastrophic consequences of failure in a report to the Iraqi parliament in late January of 2016, and the Iraqi government announced it has awarded a bid repair to an Italian firm for around $300 million. They now just have to negotiate the contract at that point.
So, let’s review. Italian firm gets a bid to work to shore up a dam that is at moderate risk of failure and that, if it fails, will kill around a million people. Spring is coming, which means snow will be melting, and the Tigris will rise. So, how long do you need to negotiate the contract?
Apparently, the answer is five weeks, because the thing was literally just signed up yesterday, following another burst of news of imminent danger with the spring coming up, from the Embassy and the dam engineers themselves. Respectfully, you can sign up a $300 million dollar deal in less than five weeks. I’ve been on teams where we’ve negotiated over $1 billion deals in three weeks after bid award, and that’s only because some CEO got it in his head that we needed it done fast to put the revenue on the books. It was a miserable three weeks, but we did it. And I’m not even close to special, just an utterly ordinary NY law firm associate at the time. Call up any large NY law firm you want, tell them you have received a $400 million contract, and you need it drafted and signed in three weeks. Any one of them will do it (if you pay them, of course). With nobody’s life at stake.
The Iraqi bureaucracy, in other words, is so fundamentally scelerotic, inept and determined to find obstacles to the advancement of any economic objectives that to save one million lives, and under enormous continuous pressure from the US Embassy and others (for their own self interests in large part of course), they cannot get the contract drafted in less than five full weeks.
Now try running a normal business in an environment like that. How long do you think your permits are going to take? Ask any Iraqi American how long it takes to get their kid a US passport. Then ask them about an Iraqi passport. A Martian would think the latter was the most valuable thing on earth given the trouble to get it. Finally, ask any couple how long it takes to get a marriage certificate from a court in Iraq. I know a couple in Suleymania that have now been waiting five weeks. Too bad it’s not a $300 million deal or one million lives are not at stake, or it might be done right around now. There isn’t much point of talking about legal reforms to facilitate investment unless that’s tackled first.
So my fear on the dam now? They say the workers will arrive from Italy within days, but there will be delays there on the visa end. And the equipment within weeks, but delays on the customs end. And work within months, but more delays on the actual payment end. And this thing which is an 18 month contract will be more on the range of 30 months or so, assuming the intense pressure is maintained. Let’s hope and pray to God the dam can last that long.