U.S. engineers examining northern Iraq's Mosul dam say they have found new signs of distress in the massive structure and it is now at "significantly higher risk" of failure that could devastate vast areas to the south.
That assessment from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - released Tuesday by Iraqi lawmakers - bolsters earlier U.S. warnings that failure of the dam on the Tigris River could send a 20-meter flood wave crashing southward into the city of Mosul and then wreak havoc as far south as Baghdad.
Numerous studies have warned that hundreds of thousands of people could die if the 32-year-old dam fails.
Experts say Mosul Dam has displayed structural flaws for years, and the latest U.S. evaluation says signs of trouble are greater than a year ago and greater than "originally understood."
Analysts say the dam, built on less than stable underpinnings, was further threatened when the surrounding area was overrun in 2014 by Islamic State extremists who forced the dam's maintenance workers to flee. Kurdish and Iraqi forces liberated the dam months later, but not before the unattended structure further deteriorated.
The latest U.S. assessment was dated January 30, just days before Iraq awarded a contract to an Italian engineering firm to repair and maintain the dam.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said some 500 Italian soldiers will be deployed to the dam to provide security.