• U.S. says dam collapse would inundate Islamic State-run Mosul
  • Baghdad government says deal with Trevi worth 273m euros

An Italian engineering company will oversee repairs to Iraq’s largest dam, which the U.S. embassy in Baghdad said this week could fail catastrophically with little warning.

Trevi Finanziaria Industriale S.p.A. signed a contract with Iraqi officials to work on the Mosul Dam on Wednesday, the Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry said in an e-mailed statement. State-run Iraqiya television said the deal was worth 273 million euros.

The dam was built on the Tigris River in the 1980s to control floods and generate electricity. But the underlying geology and soils means the construction needs constant repairs to fill cavities and underground voids, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in a report in 2007. Maintenance was interrupted in mid-2014 when Islamic State militants took control of the two-mile-wide site before being pushed back by Iraqi forces, Kurdish fighters and U.S. jets. Very little work has been carried out since.

In an advisory on Monday, the U.S. Embassy warned of a possible dam collapse. It said the northern city of Mosul, which is still controlled by Islamic State, could be inundated by as much as 70 feet (21 meters) of water within hours of a breach. Flood waters could even reach Baghdad, about 200 miles (321 kilometers) further down the Tigris, it said, adding there was “no specific information that indicates when a breach might occur.”

The agreement with Trevi follows weeks of tight negotiations between Iraqi authorities and company representatives, who are currently in Baghdad, and work isn’t even close to starting, according to a person familiar with the deal who asked not to be named as discussions are private. A spokesman for Trevi didn’t have any immediate comment.

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi told the lower house of parliament in Rome in December that Trevi would repair the dam and Italian soldiers, if authorized by parliament, would guarantee security.

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