Iraq Regional Cooperation for Water Crisis

September 08, 2021

“Where we are right now, there should be a river,” Nabil Musa says, pointing to a dried-up riverbank in northern Iraq. According to the environmental activist, the reason the once-raging Sirwan River has shrunk to a trickle is due to Iran, which he claims is “controlling all” of the river’s water. With this year’s lack of rainfall, Iraq is severely short of water, and officials working to help revive rivers like the Sirwan say lower flows from upstream neighbors Iran and Turkey are exacerbating domestic issues like leaks, ageing pipes, and illegal siphoning of supplies.

Iran and Turkey are constructing large dams to address their own water shortages, but regional cooperation on the issue is inconsistent. According to Iraqi officials, the Daryan dam across the border in Iran is diverting parts of the Sirwan back into Iranian territory via a 48 km (29 mile) tunnel. Iranian officials who were contacted by Reuters refused to respond on the assertion. Iran has stated that the dam is still under construction. Local Iraqi villagers say they have been feeling the effects of reduced Iranian volumes for two years, complaining that the fall has been punishing on communities downstream, particularly during increasingly frequent years of drought.

“However, the water crisis was our first priority would be meeting our domestic needs, followed by our neighbors,” the official added. The Iraqi water crisis has been brewing for nearly two decades. Baghdad was vulnerable to climate change and lower flows from Iran and Turkey, the sources of roughly 70% of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, due to outdated infrastructure and short-term policies. Aoun Dhiab, a spokesman for Iraq’s water ministry, told Reuters that water flows from Iran and Turkey had been cut in half since June. A request for comment from the Turkish Foreign Ministry was not immediately responded to.

Negotiations with Turkey over how much water it will allow to flow downstream to Iraq are difficult, but they are taking place. In contrast, there have been no discussions on the subject with Iran, which has contracted for the construction of at least 600 dams across the country over the last three decades. According to Musa, Iran occasionally releases water to Iraq. “But we don’t know when or how much we’ll get”. Last June, Iraqi water officials tried but failed to meet with Tehran to discuss water shortages and learn more about Iran’s water management strategy.

“We do obtain information on the status of dams and the size of reserves using satellite imagery, whether in Turkey or Iran. However, we would prefer to obtain it through diplomatic channels, are according to Dhiab. On August 28, Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, met in Baghdad to discuss regional cooperation, but the issue of regional water policies was not on the agenda. “We avoided contentious topics that pitted them against each other, such as water,” said an Iraqi diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the media.

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