In November, 2015, Mohsen al-Shammari, then the Minister for Water Resources, told reporters that there was no chance that the dam would collapse: “Whoever is saying it’s about to collapse is only talking.” Shammari is a follower of Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiery cleric whose soldiers fought the United States during the occupation. Sadr’s followers refuse to meet with American officials, and so, until a new water minister, Hassan al-Janabi, took office earlier this year, no Iraqi minister responsible for the Mosul Dam had spoken to an American official in five years. Even Janabi, who American officials say is fully aware of the problems at the dam, dodged the issue when I asked about it this summer. “I have not inspected the dam personally, so I cannot say for sure if there are any problems there,” he said. “Call me after I have gone there and inspected it.”

In private, some Iraqis pose conspiracy theories. “I know a lot of Iraqis who think this is just a big psyops operation by the U.S. government—senior officials, not just Iraqis on the street,” a former American official told me. Part of the problem, he argued, is a tradition of inertia, begun during Saddam’s dictatorship, in which officials live in fear of being penalized for taking initiative. “Iraqis will ignore the problem until the day the dam collapses,” he told me. “I’ve seen it over and over and over again. If the boss says there’s no problem, then there is no problem. And the day there is a problem, it’s, like, ‘Help!’ ”

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