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Mosul Dam in Danger of Collapse; Trouble in Paradise for Maldives; Imagine a World. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 11, 2016 - 00:00:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight: on the program, the world's most dangerous dam at its most vulnerable. We explore why and how

the Mosul Dam in Iraq could collapse and what can be done to prevent a catastrophe.

Also ahead: the paradise nation with a troubling reputation. My interview with the foreign minister of the Maldives on why her country is

becoming better known for its political repression and ISIS recruits than white beaches and clear, blue seas.


DUNYA MAUMOON, FOREIGN MINISTER, MALDIVES: Our problem should not be drawn out of proportion and I think the opposition is very responsible in

trying to like and make Maldives a hotbed, which it is not.



HOLMES: Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the program. I'm Michael Holmes in Atlanta, in tonight for Christiane.

Concerns are growing that Iraq's Mosul Dam could collapse, unleashing a wave of water 24 meters high through the city of Mosul and well beyond.

Were the unthinkable to happen, the results would be horrifying.

U.S. officials estimate more than half a million people could be killed, millions more driven from their homes. The nightmare scenario also

affecting plans to retake the city from ISIS.

According to a report by U.S. Army engineers, a bad situation worsened after militants briefly captured the dam in 2014, preventing crucial

maintenance work. It was eventually retaken by Peshmerga forces.

Now essentially the increased risk is down to erosion and a failure to constantly plug holes in the base of the dam, all because it was built in

the wrong place in the first place.

So, the fear is, it could collapse into a hole and the 30-mile lake behind it would flood into Mosul and then continue all the way down to

Baghdad, inundating everything in between. No one really knows when it could happen. And this time of year is also ringing alarm bells.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Neither the experts of the world, nor a team of experts and professors, can set a certain day or a

certain hour when the dam will collapse.

Likewise, they cannot assure people that it will not collapse. As we approach the seasons of heavy rainfalls and floods, caused by snow melt in

the fourth and fifth months, we fear that water in the dam will reach the designed capacity.

HOLMES (voice-over): And that capacity, an incredible 11 billion cubic meters. An Italian engineering firm set to sign a contract with the

Iraqi government to try to shore up the dam.


HOLMES: Now in a moment, we'll be speaking with Ali Khedery, who worked in the American embassy in Baghdad from 2003 to 2010, where he was a

top adviser on U.S. policy.

But, first, Nadhir al-Ansari, an engineering professor, who advised the Iraqi government, he joins me now from Sweden.

Professor, thanks for doing so. You have been studying this dam for years. You've been there before. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

famously calls it the most dangerous dam in the world.

Do you agree?

NADHIR AL-ANSARI, ENGINEERING PROFESSOR: Yes, I agree. Absolutely. In fact, this problem started since 1986, when they first (INAUDIBLE) the

reservoir of the dam and they noticed that there are plenty of seepage beneath the foundation of the dam.

This is because of the jointed, vaulted gypsum and limestone layers under the foundation. And when they impounded the dam, in fact, these

layers of gypsum and anhydrite (ph), they started to dissolve. And this is the cause of the seepage, in fact, underneath the foundation of the dam.


HOLMES: And so what's been happening ever since is that they've been trying to just keep things going by pumping in what they call grout, cement

and sand mixture, basically, to plug those holes.

Do you think there's been enough urgency?

AL-ANSARI: In fact, this is -- this was the solution, our recommendation of the international board of experts, on dams, is to use

grout. And grout is a mixture of cement, bentonite and water and they tried different kinds of --


AL-ANSARI: -- grout material and even they added chemicals. And there was no use.

Finally, they recommended to use another mixture of cement, bauxite and sand, fine sand, just to keep the seepage level as it is. And they did

that 24 hours a day at a rate of 3,520 tons per year.

And if you look at the reports of the engineers, one of the holes, it took at least 5,000 tons of grout. So you can imagine the seriousness of

the problem.

HOLMES: Especially when there was that pause in it being done, because ISIS was there.

Springtime is said to be the worst time for the dam because the melting snow and could any temporary fix reduce that risk, do you think?

Or is this inevitable?

AL-ANSARI: Well, when ISIS took over the dam, all the workers and engineers run away. And ISIS, they took all of the machineries and things

and that meant, in fact, that the solution of gypsum is continuing.

But nothing, no grout is taking place to replace these cavities, the newfound cavities. And for -- and in addition, one of the outlet gates --

in fact, there are two outlet gates -- one was done since 2013. And nothing was done about this.

And in fact this, what is dangerous, in fact, if the water level in March and April, which is the flood time, increases rapidly, as it happened

in the late '80s, this might cause the failure of the dam.

HOLMES: An Italian construction company, Trevi, is expected to try to build something called a cut-off wall.

What is a cut-off wall and will it work?

I know you have your doubts.

AL-ANSARI: Yes. This cut-off wall, in fact, this was -- this is not a new thing, in fact. The international board of experts, they discussed

this long time ago. And they said, because the dam is 113 meters high and they have to go underneath the foundation for about 220 meters, so the

international board of experts, they think that, technically, it is not possible and there is no assurance that it will work, in fact.

This was mentioned long time ago. But this is one of the, let's say, temporary solutions. This is not a final solution to cut the seepage.

HOLMES: You sent, I read, a student of yours a few years ago there for an update.

What did that student find at the dam?

AL-ANSARI: Sorry, I didn't get you.

HOLMES: I think you sent a student there to have a look at the dam back in 2011 and found some worrying development.

AL-ANSARI: Yes. Yes. In fact, one of my peers, (INAUDIBLE), he was doing a survey, bathymetric (ph) survey. We gave him the equipment from

Sweden and he went there to do a bathymetric (ph) survey to see the reduction and the surge capacity of the dam.

We were not looking at the dam safety at that time. But when we produced the bathymetric (ph) maps in 2011, I was shocked really because we

found that there were tons of sinkholes developed in the bottom of the reservoir.

And some of these sinkholes are about 30 to 20 meters in diameter and they are deeper than 30 meters. And this is very dangerous, in fact. If

these sinkholes are connected with the aquifer in the region, that means that the solution of gypsum and anhydrite (ph) layer will be faster, in


HOLMES: Just very briefly, what do you think is going to happen?

AL-ANSARI: Well, sooner or later the dam will be destroyed, in fact, because once the cavities underneath the foundation are so big that they

can't hold the weight of the dam, then the dam failure will be within minutes, as the U.S. Army reports say and the Swiss consultants also.

And Black & Veatch (ph) company reports, in fact, all of them, they say, it will take only a few minutes. But when it will happen, nobody

knows really.

HOLMES: Nadhir al-Ansari, engineering professor, thank you so much for your time.

And now we turn to Ali Khedery, a former senior adviser to U.S. Central Command in Iraq. He joins me now from Dubai.

This is just a nightmare scenario. And essentially, this dam was built in the wrong place, as we've heard, a place where it's --


HOLMES: -- literally falling apart. And putting it there was about politics, not engineering.

ALI KHEDERY, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER, U.S. CENTCOM: That's exactly right. The dam was constructed north of Mosul, creating Lake Dahuk,

because it was part of Saddam's Arabization policy in the north against the Kurdish community.

Unfortunately, though, as has been discussed extensively today, the foundation of the dam is gypsum and limestone. And so the water flow is

constantly eroding away at the foundation, creating the possibility of catastrophic failure, which would then create a trillion-gallon tidal wave

down through Mosul, the Tigris River Valley, down to Baghdad, even to Basra.

HOLMES: And it would get to Baghdad, I think, nearly 30 hours later and would still be a 4-meter wave that hits the capital. The prime

minister, Abadi, said on Wednesday, the Iraqi government has, in his words, "a moral responsibility" to guarantee protection of this dam.

But can they guarantee it?

KHEDERY: Frankly, I don't think anyone can. After the lack of grouting, as the professor mentioned, when ISIS took the dam in 2014 after

Mosul's fall, there are serious structural problems that likely exist underneath.

And so you have Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, a city of 2 million, just downstream from the dam and then the capital itself. Most of

the capital would be flooded to include the green zone, the seat of the government.

So this isn't actually a moral responsibility. This is an existential threat to the survival of two of Iraq's largest cities and then all the way

down to the south and Basra itself, which is obviously where all the oil is produced for the country.

HOLMES: The failure of this dam, the consequences, almost beggar belief and you say, probably quite rightly, it could lead to the collapse

of the government, were it to happen?

KHEDERY: That's exactly right. I mean just imagine in any country, if three of your largest cities, to include the capital, are flooded by

between five and 20 meters of water, it would first kill hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions; it would leave millions more without

homes or without jobs. It would just devastate the country.

So it's a very, very serious problem, one of, frankly, Biblical scale if it were to happen. And that's why I would hope that the government

takes it more seriously and the award to the Italian company, Trevi, along with its deployment of Italian troops, is a good sign. But I hope it's not

too late.

HOLMES: Yes, indeed. That company will get the contract likely and will be protected by Italian troops. That's a good point.

Speaking of a military perspective, here is the dam's vulnerability affecting plans to retake Mosul?

I know there's concerns over aggravating the situation.

If there was bombing nearby?

KHEDERY: Well, the dam is actually quite far away from the city. When ISIS took it in the summer of 2014, it was a very delicate operation,

involving some allied special operations forces, I'm told, and I spoke with the commander of the Kurdish Peshmerga, actually the son of President

Barzani, was in charge of the operation.

And it was the presidential guard from Kurdistan, who took it and then maintained control of it; I think they actually maintain control of it

until this day. So the best of the best of Iraqi and Kurdish forces on the ground protecting it.

But it was very delicate because obviously you can't use airstrikes to liberate a target like a dam that was in the hands of Mosul. But luckily

we were able to do so. And now it's an engineering problem, not a counterterrorism problem.

HOLMES: The only real answer, I imagine, is a new dam and that's probably going to cost a couple of billion dollars; whether that is ever on

the books remains to be seen. It's a very worrying situation.

Ali Khedery, got to leave it there, unfortunately, former adviser to U.S. Central Command in Iraq there in Dubai. Good to see you, Ali. Thank


A sad state of affairs in Mosul but in a turnout for the books, neglect has rendered the state of infrastructure in the United States

almost as dire. Its old dams have been left crumbling, too.

More than 100 have failed since 2010, in some way or another. As the world's weather only becomes more extreme, climate change could see states

soaked if the dams remain untended.

Well, after a break, another country facing a challenging climate, this time a political one. The Maldives, international outcry condemning

the country's crackdown on democracy. The Maldives government replies -- next.





HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone.

It's a beautiful island nation in the Indian Ocean. But recently the Maldives has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The E.U. and

U.N. say they are very concerned about the human rights situation there after the country jailed its first democratically elected president,

Mohamed Nasheed.

Last month, he was temporarily released on medical grounds and flew to London for treatment, together with his lawyer, Amal Clooney. He came in

to CNN for an interview with Christiane and hit out at the government for behaving like a dictatorship.

Well, today, we give the Maldives foreign minister, Dunya Maumoon, her right to reply.


HOLMES: Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, thanks so much for your time today.

Do you think that the former president Nasheed should return to the Maldives after this medical leave?

Or should he not?

MAUMOON: Yes, we expect him to return. He has requested for special medical leave, given his back injury, and this was a special decision by

President Yameen on humanitarian grounds to let him travel to the United Kingdom to attend to medical needs.

HOLMES: There are many, around the world, governments, U.N. bodies, who say that the government that's ruling the Maldives is not ruling it in

a democratic way.

MAUMOON: We strongly refute that allegation. As you know, President Yameen came in on an election that is certified by international observers

to have been free and fair.

He's democratically elected by the people. A lot of these allegations are unfortunately based on the findings of the U.N. Working Group on

Arbitrary Detention, as we know the findings of this group has been recently disputed by the U.K. government in the case of Julian Assange.

In fact the prime minister himself has commented on this, the U.K. prime minister, David Cameron.

HOLMES: The European parliament talks of continued democratic backsliding and deterioration of human rights; Amnesty International, a

climate of fear spreading in the Maldives, safeguards on human rights increasingly eroded.

The U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, Maldives democracy under threat.

Are they all wrong?

MAUMOON: Our president, President Yameen, just a couple of hours ago, announced his intention to invite for political dialogue all the political

parties for cross-party talks. He has also revealed his intention to address the challenges facing our young democracy in terms of strengthening

particularly the judiciary.

We remain open to the suggestions and to working with the international community, the commonwealth, the European Union, the E.U.

have always bee invited in for dialogue. And we are working with them on working out the areas where we need to go ahead to strengthen further our


HOLMES: Last year the vice president was arrested, Ahmed Adheeb, who was appointed three months after the President Yameen's running mate was

impeached. The defense minister was sacked; the former president, of course, jailed, along with any number of other opposition figures. The

police chief fired.

Yet, you say there's no real democratic crisis?

MAUMOON: Well, no man is above the law and as a functioning democracy --

HOLMES: That's quite a long list. That's quite a long list.

MAUMOON: -- instances where they crossed the law and there are allegations of criminal or public order offenses. Then obviously justice

will take its part.

And hence, a number of cases have been going through the courts. But all of them have access to lawyers and there's fair trials in the Maldives.

They have --


MAUMOON: -- the right to go through the appeals if they feel that their rights are not fully addressed in our processes.

HOLMES: I want to ask you about something else. Your nation is said to have the highest per capita recruitment to ISIS in the world, 200 or so

fighters, who have gone to Iraq or Syria.

Why is that?

And why aren't those fighters arrested when they come home?

MAUMOON: I think what the numbers are looked at in a small population and per capita is used is does not give the correct picture. We admit, we,

as the rest of the world, is facing a global challenge in terms of addressing terrorism.

We are dedicated to working against it. Today here in the U.K., I met with the foreign office and I have been discussing issues of collaboration

on the counterterrorism area.

HOLMES: Am I reading no returning jihadist who's been to Syria or Iraq has been detained?

Do you not fear radicalized locals who've been --

MAUMOON: That's not true, Michael.

Actually we have had apprehended a number of returning persons from Syria and other locations and, in fact, we have been very successful in the

past few months in locating and ensuring the return of a number who were supposed to be traveling towards these locations.

So I think, with our anti-terrorism legislation and with the work that we're doing internationally, our commitment remains particularly to

protecting our tourists. As you know, tourism is the basis of the livelihood for our people and for our country.

And our problem should not be drawn out of proportion. And I think the opposition is very irresponsible in trying to link and make Maldives a

hotbed, which it is not.

HOLMES: So you're saying, then, that returning jihadists have been detained, have been picked up.

And you're denying that there is an increased radicalization among Maldives?

MAUMOON: That is an issue. It's a small issue that we have to face. Obviously, we can't deny the facts. But, no, it's not a hugely growing

issue and we don't feel that there's any particular targeting of tourists.

In fact, the tourism ministry and the tourism sector are working day and night to protect tourists.

HOLMES: The other big threat to your nation isn't radical Islam or backsliding on democracy. It's the weather, climate change, a situation so

grave your very nation could disappear beneath the waves.

Is that something that can be reversed?

MAUMOON: I think Maldives was the first country that spoke out internationally on the issue of climate change, our former president,

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, spoke in Vancouver at a commonwealth summit and brought this to the attention of world leaders, that global warming and the

rising sea levels was impacting on small island countries such as Maldives.

Since then, we have been instrumental in the creation of the Alliance of Small Island States. We have, in last year, with Chad, this association

and led the work, going towards Paris.

HOLMES: Of course, President Nasheed led the way on climate change, raising the issue of climate change for the Maldives, and he ended up in


Do you expect he's going to be back in jail?

MAUMOON: I think we have to get the facts right, Michael. I think I just mentioned to you that it was President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who

brought the issue to the international stage. President Nasheed played a role in --


HOLMES: But it was President Nasheed, was it not?

MAUMOON: -- but I think even the president is not above the law. A former president is not above the law, neither is a minister or any other

person. And if you commit criminal actions, abduction of a judge is a very serious crime.

HOLMES: Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, thank you so much.

MAUMOON: Thank you very much, Michael, for the opportunity. Thank you.


HOLMES: And from the waves and controversies lapping on the shores of the Maldives, to the ripples that have hitting our planet for billions of

years, after a break, imagine a world transformed by new knowledge. Science makes waves -- next.





HOLMES: Finally tonight, we imagine a world, not a world but a whole universe, riding a wave today, NASA confirming Einstein's prediction of

gravitational waves, one of the last unproven ideas in his general theory of relativity. And quite possibly a new key to understanding our universe.

We're talking about ripples created by huge cataclysmic events, like two black holes colliding, gravitational waves gliding through the stars at

the speed of light and spreading throughout all of space-time.

But their minuscule impact has made them impossible to detect -- until now. They were discovered by LIGO detectives in Washington and Louisiana,

huge research centers set across four kilometers, using lasers and mirrors to create a cosmic microphone, picking up passing waves by catching any

distortions due to stretching or compressing of space-time.

The black hole collision heard today happened 1.3 billion years ago. It's all a bit of a mind melter. But effectively, it gives humanity a

chance to gaze deeper into the universe and further back in time than ever before, providing the world with even more questions to find answers for.

And if you understood all of that, tweet me @HolmesCNN and explain it to me. I have no idea what I just said.

That's it for our program tonight. Remember, you can watch all of our interviews online at Thanks for watching. And goodbye from

the CNN Center.