Iran cuts off water from Iraq and the latter threatens to resort to the international community
- Two days ago [9/10/2021]
Researcher Shatha Khalil*
, the Iraqi Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi Rashid Al-Hamdani stated that “water releases from Iran have reached zero,” and that
the crisis will worsen in Diyala Governorate if Iran continues to cut off water from the Sirwan, Karun and Karkha rivers, indicating the need to resort to the international community “in order to Sharing the damage and releasing Iraq’s water share according to international conventions.
Continuous conflicts throughout history
The border problems between Iraq and Iran, especially the Shatt al-Arab region, are one of the main causes of the chronic conflict between the two countries, which led to a long war that lasted about 8 years, and left hundreds of thousands of dead and prisoners, and caused massive economic, social and military destruction and losses to sides.
On July 7, 1937, Tehran and Baghdad signed the first treaty to demarcate the borders between the two countries after the establishment of the Iraqi state, in which Iran recognized the Iraq of the Shatt al-Arab, based on old treaties between the Ottoman and Persian states.
Iraq relies on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for nearly all of its water.
But Iran is building dams to re-divert part of that water, causing concern and creating a major water shortage in Iraq.
Tehran prefers not to work with Baghdad on water projects, and instead opts for quick solutions to its own water problems, without taking into account the Iraqi side.
Specialists assert that the 1937 agreement is one of the most prominent stations for normalizing the situation between the two countries, especially since Iran did not recognize Iraq as an independent, sovereign state until the beginning of the 1930s, and that the political developments that Iraq experienced in that era made it necessary for Iran to end the problem of borders between the two countries.
This does not mean that canceling the agreement was a direct cause for igniting the war between the two countries in the eighties of the last century, because there were new political conditions in the two countries, which had a decisive role in starting the war.
There are many reasons that prompted Iraq in 1980 to cancel the Algiers Agreement, including Iran’s failure to abide by its commitments in the 1937 agreement, especially the clause related to non-interference in Iraq’s internal affairs, in addition to the worrying nature of the image that Iran appeared in after the Islamic revolution in 1979, which are all Reasons that prompted Iraq to cancel the Algiers Agreement, which led to the outbreak of the 8-year war.
From a legal point of view: the river has a source and a course, and every country has the right to enjoy the river from which its water originates or flows in it and pours into its surroundings as well.
It would cancel this legal right, which was stipulated in United Nations resolutions and then a resolution on the Iraqi-Iranian issue in 1997, which stipulates that Iraq may resort to the International Court of Justice if it encounters problems with Iran in respecting the agreements and was approved at the time, so there are many rivers flowing into the Shatt al-Arab
Most of them are from an Iranian source in exchange for Iraqi confluences and streams, which are according to the governorates, the rivers of Sulaymaniyah governorate, such as the Little Zab River, the rivers of Diyala governorate, such as the Diyala River, the rivers of Wasit Governorate, such as Kanjan Jam, rivers flowing into the Tigris and the Shuwaija Valley, such as Wadi Tahla, the rivers of Maysan and Basra governorates such as the Tayeb River Shatt Al Arab.
For its part, Iran has carried out “modern” irrigation projects along the western border with Iraq, with the aim of quadrupling the volume of Iranian agricultural products.
In fact, the projects are not terribly modern and involve the construction of a number of small dams.
In 2019, for example, Iran announced plans to build 109 dams over about two years, redirecting excess water in dam reservoirs to other drought-prone provinces across the country.
As for the State of Iraq, the government says that its water insecurity is acute, and that Iran must stop this water blockage.
The Kurdistan Regional Government and a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources accused Iran of diverting the Tigris River in the north, and of violating international law prohibiting harmful disturbances in natural river flows.
Local officials in Iraqi Kurdistan have warned that Iranian dam projects and water diversions could lead to a major disaster in the next few years and precipitate mass human migration.
It will also harm farmland, wildlife and tourism. About 750 acres of farmland and 400 fishing projects may be destroyed.
The Nosoud Water Tunnel, which came into operation last year in Iran, could withdraw 100% of drinking water in parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, draining its agriculture and fishing resources.
The Sirwan River and Little Zab provide water for large areas of Iraq during the summer season, when agricultural projects are booming.
The river's flow from Iran into the Sirwan River late last year decreased to 7 cubic meters per second, significantly down from the original level of 45 cubic meters per second.
The flow of the Little Zab has decreased to 2 cubic meters per second, which basically means that the flow of water has stopped.
The Dam Directorate in the Kurdistan Regional Government said last year, that Iran had completely cut off flows from the water source of the Dokan Dam, on which 100,000 people depend, and which connects to the Little Zab.
But from Tehran's point of view, its actions are legal, given that the KRG's Little Zab and Sirwan rivers originate in the Zagros Mountains in northwest Iran.
Iran continues to divert the Little Zab River to feed Lake Urmia, while the Sirwan River is diverted for irrigation projects in the Iranian border region of Sarbol Zahab.
As a result of Iran's plans to build dams and divert water from Iraqi territory, the flows of the Sirwan and Little Zab rivers - both tributaries of the Tigris - have decreased dramatically.
The Iranian Nosud Water Tunnel, located only 10 kilometers west of the Great Daryan Dam, diverted the course of the Sirwan River to Kermanshah and other parts of western Iran.
The Kulsa Dam in Iran's Sardasht region has reduced the water level in the Little Zab by 80%.
Faced with this vital problem, the KRG has taken unilateral measures through an aggressive dam construction project in the north, given that the flows of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are expected to decrease by another 50% by 2030.
The KRG says these new projects are dams , along with the existing 17 dams, are essential for power generation and providing water for irrigation, fisheries and tourism, even if they impede water supplies to other parts of Iraq.
This is also despite the fact that the region has ample water resources of its own, although poorly managed.
In southern Iraq bordering Iran, the Mesopotamian marshes are shrinking despite restoration efforts.
This wetland area was once the largest ecosystem in western Eurasia.
The drainage of the marshes along with the dam structures leads to severe salinization of the rivers, including the Karun River. Iran extracts water from this river and drains harmful water through it to the Shatt al-Arab, a process that increases salinity.
In 2019, Iraq called on Tehran to activate the 1975 Algiers Agreement, which divides the Shatt al-Arab between Iran and Iraq, and joint management of water projects.
But since then, the two countries have held only a few meetings to promote joint water management, and neither side has seriously looked for alternatives such as changing water-intensive irrigation patterns.
The complexities of the proper management of water resources may lead Iran to completely ignore Iraq's interests in the future.
Moreover, the economic risks involved are significant.
In conclusion, the issue is basically legal, and resorting to international arbitration in Paris or international justice will embarrass Iran, because its non-compliance with the terms of the agreement to ensure the natural flow of rivers towards Iraq, gives the latter the right to implement the clause related to the Shatt al-Arab, which is a return to the situation before 1975, and control If Iraq possesses the full political will, it can take this step.
Some observers accuse Iran of continuing to blackmail Iraq in water and energy, in light of cutting off the river tributaries, as well as cutting off the electrical supply in the recent period, with the high temperatures in the intense summer, and Iran trying to control the joints in the country through its clients, to ensure control of policies which serve their interests.
Economic Studies Unit Al-
Rutabut Center for Research and Strategic Studies