Water is the basis of life on earth, and without it nothing would exist, including the economic activities on which humanity relies, such as agriculture, industry or any other human endeavour. Civilisation as we now know it has developed around the great rivers, and among these, the Tigris and Euphrates have played a major role, enabling the emergence of Mesopotamian civilisations that are among the oldest the world can remember. Millions of people have prospered on the waters of these two great rivers up to the present day, ensuring even today, as in the past, the continuation of agricultural activities and access to drinking water. However, all this has recently been seriously threatened in modern-day Iraq. 1

Iraq’s water resources are all concentrated in the Tigris and Euphrates, which together account for 98% of total resources. Both rivers originate from the Turkish highlands, and although they flow in different directions, they are ranked among the world’s great rivers. 2
However, due to the construction of numerous dams in Turkey and Iran, water flows have diminished to such an extent that they are threatening the sovereignty of Iraq itself: 3 Recently, leading figures in the Baghdad government have repeatedly stressed on several occasions the dangerous condition in which Baghdad finds itself due to the hydro-politics of Iran and Turkey, which have significantly decreased the flow of water into Mesopotamia. In a recent interview, Minister of Water Resources Mehdi Rashid Al- Hamdani complained that his country could once again face a crisis this year with devastating effects on Iraq’s health and agriculture due to the failure to reach agreements with Turkey on the management of hydroelectric power stations, 4 and of the same opinion is the undersecretary of the Minister of Environment and Health, Jassim al-Falahi, who points the finger at Ankara and Tehran, reiterating how their management of water through dams is condemning millions of Iranians to death. 5

Harsh international criticism of Turkey relates not only to its recent handling of the issue, but also and above all to the Memorandum of Understanding in Water Management of 2019, which was deemed insufficient to ensure full cooperation on this important issue: despite having been drawn up jointly by the representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the respective embassies at the time, not only has it failed to lead to a definitive solution on the management of water sources, but has allowed Turkey to exploit the clauses to its advantage. 6 However, something seems to be moving in another direction recently: Turkey has temporarily reached an agreement with the Iraqi authorities to manage the flow of water more carefully in July, in particular with regard to the giant Ilisu Dam project, which has not yet been completely filled. 7

However, although this is very good news, since 70% of Iraq’s water resources come from Turkey, it has to be said that a large part is controlled by Iran, which, by regulating the tributaries of the Tigris to its own advantage, has contributed to the worsening of the situation: the previous government of Rohani had announced the construction of more than a hundred small dams on the course of the tributaries of the Tigris, such as the rivers Zab and Sirwan. 8 The strategy pursued by Tehran aims at the preservation of water sourcesmainly for the fertilisation of large portions of land along the course of tributary rivers, and this policy choice derives mainly from the need by the Islamic Republic to cement food security within a framework of ruthless sanctions on the country. This strict necessity on Iran’s part therefore prevents future concessions to Iraq, 9 and this, in the context of a rapidly changing environment, represents an enormous danger for the whole of lower Iraq, historically the most fertile and populous part of the country. 10

Therefore, it can be said that Iraq is a perfect example of the failure of Water Governance, a ‘Hydro-Political’ disaster which risks becoming a foreign policy weapon on behalf of neighbouring nations towards Iraq itself, which, engaged in a long and arduous process of reconstruction, finds itself in the position of being as much threatened as it is vulnerable. A difficult situation, which could be changed at international level with the establishment of bi-multilateral agreements between upstream and downstream countries based on continuous dialogue between the parties, something that, at least for now, unfortunately does not seem achievable. 11

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