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Damming projects by Turkey, Iran nightmare for Iraq: warns expert

  2021-06-18  | 
 Zhyan News Network
A view from Dukan lake on the Little Zab river situated to the northwest of Sulaimani. The level of water has lessened by six cubic meters compared with the previous year due to damming restrictions by Iran. Photo courtesy of social media
 Zhyan News Network


SULAIMANI – As water scarcity looming large in Iraq, a water crisis expert warns of the fallouts from the looming finalization of the upstream damming projects by Iran and Turkey on water flows entering into the Iraq including the Kurdistan Region.

The Region and Iraq are facing water shortage this year due to low level of precipitation, damming projects by neighboring Turkey and Iran and authorities’ failure to find alternatives to counter the looming threat.

Turkey’s Southern Anatolia Project (GAP) project includes twenty-two dams, four on the Tigris river and the others are on the Euphrates river. Turkey has erected nineteen power stations on the project, water crisis expert Abdulmutalib Rafaat told Voice of America. 

“Turkey’s projects are not usual and not only for containing water, but they have various purposes through containing the water,” Rafaat said. “Turkey wants to control politics, market and agriculture in Iraq.” 


A view of Ilisu dam built on the Tigris near the village of Ilısu along the border Mradin and Sirnak provinces in southeast Turkey. It is one of the 22 dams of GAP project for hydroelectric power production, flood control and water storage. Photo by Anadolu Agency.


In August, 2019, Turkey began filling hydroelectric Ilisu dam on the Tigris its southeast, despite protests that it will displace thousands of people and risks creating water shortages downstream in Iraq.

Turkey is also building three dams and has designed the construction of six others on the Great Zab River near the borderlands with Iraq, according to the expert. “These projects will put Iraq at a big risk of national security, water and food problems.”

Iran also has also two damming projects on the water flows entering the Kurdistan Region, one on the Sirwan river and the other on the Little Zab river.

Iran makes use of the first project, consisting of thirteen dams, to irrigate about 100,000 hectares of lands. The project has the ability to contain 1.5 billion cubic meters though the dams. 

“When the dams are filled, the water directly does not flow into Iraq and [the Kurdistan] Region, because Iran has built other small dams that the flow enters those dams,” Rafaat told VOA. 

Iran has also built another project on the Little Zab dubbed “Urmia Lake Development.”

“This lake has faced water shortage for years and its water has decreased by 70%,” he said. “Iran wants to transport the water of Little Zab to Urmia Lake through tunnels.”


The dried-up shore of an irrigation canal near the village of Sayyed Dakhil, to the east of Nasariyah city some 300 kilometers south of Baghdad. Photo by Haidar Mohammed Ali / AFP  

The expert claimed the project has the ability to contain 650 million cubic meters annually.

Iraq has been in talks with Iran and Turkey to secure sufficient water flows into the country.

Water flowing into Iraq has dropped from a 1970s peak of nearly 80 billion cubic meters per year to less than 50 billion cubic meters, according to the National News. 

Iraq’s estimated population, of around 40 million, is expected to double by 2050, as the impacts of climate change, decreased and erratic precipitation, higher temperatures, prolonged and more severe droughts—will further aggravate its water woes. 

The Euphrates crosses Turkey into northwestern Syria into Iraq. Turkey has also restricted the flow that affects areas in northeastern Syria.


Sirwan water has significantly declined in 2021 due to damming projects by Iran. The river originates in Hamadan in the Zagros mountains that enters the Kurdistan Region’s Kalar district into Diyala’s Baqubah. Photo curtesy of social media


In 1987, Turkey and Syria reached an agreement over water sharing. Turkey agreed to maintain a minimum flow of 500 cubic meters a second into Syria. Iraq and Syria also established a water sharing agreement in 1990.

There is still no significant agreement between Iraq and Turkey that creates a tension regarding water sharing policies in the region.

In May, an Iraqi lawmaker called on the Iraqi government to to use its trade relations with Iran and Turkey as leverage in its negotiations between two countries. “Especially since the rate of trade exchange is very large.”

(Zhyan English)