In recent years, Iraq has been afflicted by severe water shortages. With climate change and upstream water management practices as major factors, these shortages are further complicated by geopolitical realities. Iraq is a weak state dependent on upstream countries – namely Türkiye, Iran, and Syria – that have been damming or redirecting the paths of shared rivers to secure their own needs, thus reducing the amount of water flowing to Iraq. Over the decades, successive Iraqi governments have used different strategies to secure the country’s share of water, ranging from collaborative diplomacy to threats of military conflict. Yet so far none of these strategies have been successful at preserving Iraq’s long-term water interests.
Remarkably, to this day, Iraq remains without enforceable water-sharing agreements with its riparian neighbors.
This report delves into Iraq’s relationship with Türkiye, Iran, and Syria, shedding light on the country’s water disputes in the context of an unfolding climate crisis. It also explores the pathways Iraq has taken, or neglected to take, to secure its rights against a backdrop of international law concerning shared watercourses. The report concludes with suggestions for practical ways in which Iraq can leverage its influence, and potential, as an energy producer, trade partner, and key ally in security affairs to reach mutually acceptable water sharing arrangements with its upstream neighbours.
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(*) Enabling Peace in Iraq Center is an independent 501(c)3 organization dedicated to supporting Iraqi efforts to improve governance and human rights, build peace, and address climate change