Economy

Iraq accuses Iran of illegally diverting river water

By Alaa Hussein in Baghdad

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A view of the Zab river that feeds the Dukan dam in Iraq's Kurdish region, 65 kilometres north-west of Suleimaniyah. [Shwan Mohammed/AFP]

Iraq's Ministry of Water Resources has accused Iran of violating international law by cutting off two main tributaries flowing into the Tigris river in northern Iraq.

In an August 19th statement, the ministry said it has detected a significant decrease in the amount of water flowing from Iranian territories through the Sirwan and Lower Zab rivers into Iraq.

Sirwan feeds into the Darbandikhan dam reservoir, and the Lower Zab River feeds into the Dokan dam reservoir in Suleimaniyah province.

The amount of water flowing into Darbandikhan dam reservoir from Iran has dropped to seven cubic metres per second, down from 45 cubic metres per second, the ministry said.

The water in the Lower Zab river has dropped to two cubic metres per second, which essentially amounts to a total cutoff of the water flow, it said.

Violation of international laws

Iran has diverted some Zab river water into Lake Urmia, which lies within its borders, and diverted part of the Sirwan river water to irrigation projects in the Sarpol-e Zahab region in Kermanshah province, media reports said.

This is a "clear violation of international laws and norms", which do not allow the transfer of water from one river basin to another if this is detrimental to river estuaries, the ministry said.

In this case, it said, the transfer caused damage to downstream areas in Iraq.

Iran's actions will harm Iraq's agricultural sector, and will directly impact villages in the river basins that feed into Darbandikhan dam, whose water flows have been cut off, ministry spokesman Aoun Diab told Diyaruna.

Water storage levels in the dam -- one of the most important in Iraq, as it supplies water to vast areas in the summer months -- also will be affected, he said.

He warned that this could adversely affect next summer's growing season, as vast swathes of agricultural lands depend on the water stored in the dams, which may not be able to fully meet demand if the water cut-off continues.

The situation will further deteriorate if the season next summer is dry, as current forecasts indicate, Diab said.

Darbandikhan dam director Rahman Khani told Diyaruna the water cut-off will adversely affect operations at the dam, which produces electric power, and will cause the water level to drop in Lake Hamreen and also the Diyala dam.

'Water war' against Iraq

Iran's actions amount to a "water war" against Iraq, said Haider al-Asad, president of the General Union of Agricultural Co-operative Societies in Iraq. He called on the government to pressure Iran to release Iraq's water quotas.

"The Iraqi agricultural sector has recently succeeded in achieving self-sufficiency with many agricultural crops, especially wheat," he said.

Iraqis had expected to cultivate about 20 million dunams of agricultural land in upcoming seasons, 80% of which are located in the Tigris river basin, while the rest lies in the Euphrates river basin, al-Asad said.

But the water cut-off and lower water storage levels in Iraqi dams could negatively impact these plans, he said.

Iraqi farmers, particularly those who grow wheat, a key strategic crop, are the true targets of policies that reduce Iraq's water flow, he said.

Wheat farmers managed last season to produce 5.5 million tonnes of wheat, he said, thus achieving self-sufficiency for their country and saving hard currency the Iraqi government would have needed to import grain from abroad.

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