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A water story (2021)
A crisis in the making as Iran cuts off KRI main rivers - Text by Bart von Laffert

In Topkhana, a village completely dependent on agriculture, Alqod Mahmoud is standing at the edge of the bank, staring powerless at the empty river bed. In March, the rainy season was just about to end, but below his feet, where once the Sirwan river (one of the Tigris main tributaries) used to flow, there is only a pond of stagnant water. He has no doubt about the cause: “It is Iran”, he says.

 

A tool developed by the NGO Water Peace and Security predicted that the next water conflict will arise along three borders: India-Pakistan, Mali-Niger, and Iran-Iraq. The Kurdistan region of Iraq (KRI), on the border with Iran, Syria and Turkey is right in the middle of a conflict in the making. 

 

Iraq is among the countries in the world highly dependent on water resources originating beyond their borders. Now, Iran is about to complete its Tropical Water Project, a series of dams, tunnels and water diversions to boost its own agriculture. The project, experts estimated, will result in a 80% cut of the water once flowing to Iraq.

 

It is a geopolitical as well as an economic battle. At least since 2016, Iraq has been the destination of 35% of Iran’s agricultural exports, which exceed $2bn in value.  “Iran sees Iraq as a marketplace. As Iran's economy struggles due to USA sanctions, they are trying to solve the problem using Iraq as a marketing ground”, says Abdulmutalib Raafat Sarhat, a lecturer on water management resources at Garmyan University in Kalar.

 

The defend itself from the Iranian dams, the KRG is pitching a rather controversial solution: building more dams - 245 to be exact. But this will only cause further problems downstream, in Southern Iraq. “Dams are cloths in our circulatory system - says Nabil Musa, an Iraqi water activist  -. Rivers used to unite us, our civilisations. Dams are dividing us”.

Featured by: Republik, Freitag, DW