Iraq News

ISIL spreads false claims about al-Tabqa dam

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces stands by the northern entrance of al-Tabqa dam on the Euphrates River. [Photo courtesy of SDF media office]

A fighter from the Syrian Democratic Forces stands by the northern entrance of al-Tabqa dam on the Euphrates River. [Photo courtesy of SDF media office]

Rumours propagated by the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL) that warn of damage to al-Tabqa dam are unfounded, experts and officials tell Diyaruna, and are merely intended to cause alarm and stall the liberating forces.

Through media outlets and mosque loudspeakers, ISIL announced that the dam on the Euphrates River was in danger of collapse -- a breach that would cause catastrophic flooding in al-Raqa that would reach as far downriver as Deir Ezzor.

"The group is keeping the people of the city of al-Raqa on nervous edge by spreading lies about the collapse of al-Tabqa dam," said al-Raqa resident Wael Mustafa, using a pseudonym out of fear for his safety.

On March 23rd and 24th, ISIL elements used loudspeakers in al-Raqa city mosques to announce that the dam was near collapse, blaming the ongoing military operations targeting ISIL positions in its vicinity, he told Diyaruna.

"Panic spread among residents for fear the dam would collapse and flood all areas of al-Raqa , prompting them to leave their homes for the high hills, where many spent the night," he said.

The group later retracted its claim via the same mosques, announcing that the dam was not in danger, Mustafa said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say they have not been shelling the area around the dam, and neither has it been targeted by coalition airstrikes, as the coalition has parachuted troops down to engage ISIL fighters directly.

Contrary to the group's claims, the main threat to the dam comes from ISIL.

ISIL exploited a brief ceasefire -- announced by the SDF to allow engineers to enter and inspect the dam -- to regroup and attack the Arab-Kurd opposition alliance, officials said.

Meanwhile, Mustafa said, al-Raqa residents fear that ISIL will blow up the dam, even partially, in retaliation if the area falls out of its hands.

ISIL has barred residents from leaving the city, even for the neighbouring countryside, as it intends to hold them hostage and control their fate for as long as possible, he added.

Water level needs monitoring

"The Euphrates dam consists of two parts," said engineer Mousa al-Ahmad, who worked at the dam before he was forced to flee to Turkey.

"The first is the dam, behind which is al-Tabqa lake, and the second is the power plant," he told Diyaruna.

"Despite the numerous warnings, the water level is still safe," he said.

The water level in the dam can still rise one and a half metres before it reaches capacity, he said.

Discharging the appropriate amount of water to keep levels safe can be done in a few days by just a handful of qualified workers, he said, who are needed to control the discharge and ease the pressure of the released water.

"However, the current concerns centre on the Euphrates Dam power plant getting flooded," he said, adding that specialised workers need to be present at the dam at all times to monitor the water level, supply the power plant with water and inspect the dam for leaks.

Concerns centre on stripping the dam of its employees, he said, as this could lead to problems.

If the plant continues to be left without monitors and workers to control the water levels, the consequences from rushing water will be "disastrous to the areas of Deir Ezzor and al-Raqa", al-Ahmad said.

The city of al-Tabqa is on relatively higher ground "and is not in imminent danger", he added.

ISIL attempts to regroup

"The fighting in the vicinity of al-Tabqa dam is continuing," said SDF officer Farhad Khoja, who is taking part in Operation Wrath of the Euphrates.

The battles are being conducted carefully because of the dam, he told Diyaruna, stressing that the SDF is keen to keep it from sustaining any damage.

"The SDF have not aimed their weapons in any way at the dam area and have not barred or impeded members of technical teams from reaching it," he said.

On March 27th, Khoja said, the Wrath of the Euphrates operation room announced a four-hour ceasefire to allow engineers and dam technicians to enter the facility .

The SDF adhered to the ceasefire, he said, but ISIL took advantage of the situation to regroup its fighters in the area and attack SDF units, forcing them to respond, return fire and resume military operations.

"ISIL spread rumours about the dam being damaged by shelling to tarnish the SDF’s image and portray them as unconcerned about the lives of citizens," he added.

The group seeks to halt the military operations, airstrikes and shelling in the area of the dam in order to buy itself time to prepare and regroup its forces to defend nearby al-Raqa after losing vast areas to the SDF, Khoja said.

Keeping the dam safe

The SDF have made it a top priority to keep the dam safe and deflect any danger that might harm its infrastructure, said SDF unit commander Abdel Fattah Nasruddin.

Protective measures include "sending work teams of engineers, technicians and dam specialists to ensure that it continues to work and civilians are not put in any danger following its full or partial collapse", he told Diyaruna.

News about a possible breach of the dam has been greatly exaggerated, he said, pointing to ISIL’s media machine as the source of the rumours.

The group has tried to exploit public fears about the dam's safety to stop the SDF’s advance towards al-Tabqa and al-Raqa, he said.

"Work teams have managed to fully lift the danger off the dam by getting it back to work," Nasruddin said, adding that two water discharge channels are working now.

Engineers have managed to open one of the channels, which had been completely closed, and also to conduct maintenance work on the other one, which had been half closed, he said.

This was done by creating new temporary control points, after the main control panels were hurt in the bombing of the dam by ISIL’s artillery, he explained.

"The SDF have activated all aspects of co-operation with the maintenance teams, which were accompanied by a group of Syrian Red Crescent men," he said, adding that technicians are on site around the clock to monitor the dam and conduct any necessary repair work.

Do you like this article?

1 Comment(s)
Comment Policy * Denotes Required Field 1500 / 1500