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Baghdad- Iraq

October 2009

   Water plays a very essential and important role in social and economical development all over the world. The same is the case of Iraq, where the first Sumerian, Babylon, Assyrian civilizations on the banks of Tigris and Euphrates Rivers originated thousands of years ago. These civilizations were accompanied by construction of the first hydraulic structures of dams and irrigation canals and the drafting of laws for organized use of river waters. Water has been, and is still very important in the history of Iraq and its development. Thus, for us to understand what the future has for Iraq, we have to look at the existing water policies in Iraq and the challenges faced in investing in Water Resources development and management.

As a result of malfunctioning policies of the old regime in Iraq, interference in internal conflicts, regional and international wars, economic sanctions, lack of allocating necessary funds for infrastructural development and implementation of development projects, and lack of clear strategies for social and economic development in the country has led to deterioration in service delivery functions of various economic sectors. Furthermore, decisions for very  large strategic  projects were politically motivated more than being technically - sound solutions and  setting  standards for public participation and economic analyses of these projects were completely ignored in the decision making process the results of which have produced significant negative impacts on the present economic and social conditions of the country.

Insufficient application of modern methods of water resources management by the old Ministry of Irrigation has put the country several decades behind international levels of development. Carelessness of the old regime towards science and engineering was associated with 12 years of imposed economic boycotts and sanctions which prevented Iraqi engineers and scientists from taking advantage of international cooperation opportunities and transfer of modern technology. Therefore, we have inherited a very heavy inheritance of backwardness in all fields including Water Resources management. This dictates the need for long periods of time and sufficient funding for re-establishing and modernizing this sector.

The Iraqi Ministry of Irrigation in the past did not have enough machinery needed to complete irrigation projects. After 2003, the present Ministry of Water Resources has contracted and imported a large number of modern machinery and equipment from many well known international manufacturers and suppliers to improve the water situation in Iraq. In particular, drilling rigs for groundwater wells, water pumps, and machines for cutting grass, dredging equipment, and other necessary machinery were not available. The Ministry of Water Resources had two grouting pumps at Al-Mosul Dam in 2003 but now there are 36 new machines operational on site. In addition to the fact that the Ministry did not have new and sufficient machinery and except for a limited number of old dredging machines, the Ministry now has 58 dredging machines of various sizes although these special equipment and machinery need huge sums of money.

Since 1933, Iraq has experienced many consecutive drought periods the worst of which was a period of 3 years (1999 – 2000 - 2001) and now these drought years have been repeated since 2008 which indicates the negative impact of climate change being witnessed worldwide including lack of rainfall.

The impacts of many factors have resulted in the existing water crisis in Iraq:

The first factor is the climate change which has led to drought phenomenon which covered the Middle East region as a whole not Iraq alone. This has resulted in decreased amounts of rainfall and snow and significant decrease in water discharges of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and their tributaries.

Another important factor is the behavior of the neighboring countries (Turkey, Syria and Iran) in their operational water plans which limited the flow of potable water used to drain from the mountains of Turkey through Syria into Iraq and from the mountains of Iran into Iraq without dams or dikes. Ever since way back in history and until the early 70’s of the last century when the neighboring countries started constructing storage dams and irrigation projects and they are still continuing to build more storage and diversion hydraulic structures without taking into consideration the consequences of  decreased water flows into Iraq and the deterioration of their quality. A number of dams on the Euphrates River in Turkey and Syria have been built and through their operational plans they can control water quantities flowing into Iraq as well as their storage. As far as the tributaries of Tigris River, Iran has cut off the flow of all its tributaries in Iran which feed into Tigris River in Iraq completely as in case of Al-wind and Karkha tributaries and the diversion of Karun River inside the Iranian land instead of flowing into Shatt Al-Arab which caused also the increase in the water salinity of Shatt Al–Arab and the negative impacts on agricultural land and quality of drinking water supply in Basra province. As a result of ebb and tide on the towns of Al-Kurna and Al - Faw and also due to salt water intrusion there is no enough water head in land to prevent salt water intrusion.

The third factor is related to water management in Iraq’s old water policies since the establishment of the Iraqi modern state up until the fall of the dictatorship on 9th April 2003 and the economic boycotts and sanctions on Iraq which have led to stoppage of the development process and deterioration of the service delivery functions in different economic sectors including the Water Resources sector. These policies lacked clear plans for water use and the old regime did not pay enough attention to irrigation projects in irrigable land and these lands became uncultivated and unsuitable for irrigation.

Implementation of many irrigation projects has been neglected by the old regimes. These projects were not put into beneficial use in addition to neglecting the necessary plans for maintenance and good operation. Most of the projects constructed in the country still need maintenance and development.

The water problem in Iraq is a long standing problem and today we have more than 12,689 kms of irrigation canals; primary and secondary, and field and collective subsurface drainage canals  most of them need rehabilitation as shown in the following table:


There are many water pumping stations in bad condition and need maintenance and renovation. Also aquatic grass and water pollution factors are spreading in rivers and tributaries.

The process of improving and developing the water resources situation in Iraq involves the implementation of important and strategic irrigation projects for optimal use of water resources especially in this present difficult transitional phase in Iraq which requires suitable security conditions on the sites of these projects in addition to suitable environment to encourage investments in the field of water resources. Implementation of irrigation projects,  construction of multipurpose projects, river dredging, utilization of ground water resources, construction of tourism sites and boating on these rivers in addition to utilization of the main sub-surface drainage canal water by desalination for irrigation purposes and other agricultural uses and for the restoration of Ahwars. All these activities require allotting sufficient funds within the capital budget for the implementation of new projects including the Ministry’s various activities and the development and improvement of existing projects.

The strategy prepared by the Ministry of Irrigation in the old regime has ended in the year 2000 and never modified since it started in 1982 and this is considered as a big and clear disorder. But we have got it right since the Ministry of Water Resources was formulated in 2004 by drawing up clear strategies starting from the strategy which covers the period 2010-2014 and then after another strategy for the period ending 2030. This is what we call the roadmap. Naturally these strategies will need time and effort and will be the future policies and strategies of water resources management in Iraq in an integrated form. The projects of these strategies will be awarded to foreign companies  for implementation taking into consideration changes occurring in the region and the world, and the water operational plans of the neighboring countries and the increase in development of water resources by constructing small and large dams and irrigation projects, the implementation of which would require increased and regulated irrigation projects in existing and future projects including land reclamation and introduction of modern irrigation methods ( Sprinkler and drip methods) in a good number of irrigation projects. These modern irrigation methods will result in water saving which we need at present and in the future. The Ministry is working hard on the development of water plans, rehabilitation of irrigation and subsurface drainage canals , lining of earth canals in order to reduce water losses and to prevent excessive water use specially that Iraq is now facing water shortage.

In the field of groundwater utilization and in accordance with the drafted strategy, the ground water storage is limited, but it could be used for drinking and for irrigating limited areas situated away from the surface water sources. Since June 30, 2003, until 31st August 2009, 3395 ground water wells have been drilled. The plan according to the upcoming strategy, the General Establishment of Groundwater shall drill 1000 wells annually in all governorates of Iraq, in addition to ground water wells for the private sector.

Water resources studies point out the effect of water pollution in river water and provide guidelines for its treatment. Thus, we in turn call for allocating sufficient funding for water treatment, implementation of irrigation projects, and other activities of the Ministry in accordance with the strategy to uplift the irrigation and agricultural situation in Iraq. In this regard we would like to mention a number of important projects which the Ministry intends to implement according to the strategic plan (2010-2014).

In case of large dams, the following dams shall be constructed; Bakhama Dam, Badoosh Dam, Mendawa Dam and Al-Khazer River two dams Bakerman Dam and Khalikan Dam, in addition to Taq Taq, Qura Ali, and Litan Dam. The Ministry shall implement full and sustainable treatment of all engineering and geological problems occurring in Al-Mosul Dam which is considered as one of the largest and most important dams in Iraq, in addition to construction of small dams in the Western desert such as Ar Ar Dam, Al-Ghadaf Dam, Hamaer. Other on-going and / or to be implemented irrigation and land reclamation projects include: East Gharraf Project and West Gharraf Project in provinces of Wassit and Thi-Qar and Al-Kifil Al-Shinafiya project in the province of Diwaniya and Hilla Ashimiya project, Hilla Diwaniya  project in the province of Babil and Al-Jazeera south and Al-Jazeera East project in the province of Ninawa, and Al-Hawijeh project , Completion of Kirkuk Irrigation Project in Kirkuk province, Al- Rumethah  and Al-Muthana project, in the province of Anbar and Muthana provinces, Falooja - Al-Amriya project in Anbar province and Makhmoor, Shermamuk provinces of Erbil and Shahrazoor project in the province of Sulemaniya,  and Al-Khazer-Kumil province of Dohuk.

According to the drafted strategy, the total area which needs land reclamation amounts to 7.2 Million Donums. The land reclamation plan (2010-2014) amounts to 4 Million Donums distributed among provinces as shown in the following table:


Our Ministry has good relationships with the neighboring countries and has achieved large successes in this field in spite of the fact that dialogues with these countries had stopped during the previous regime for almost 20 years. Our Ministry is seeking exchange of information and expertise in particular at the level of operational plans and solving pending problems to secureIraq has continuously affirmed through the Ministry of Water Resources its keen interest in having good relationships with neighboring countries. The importance of effecting international cooperation, signing bilateral and multi lateral agreements to deal with declining water resources flowing into Iraq, putting an end to competition on these waters, enforcing the language of dialogue and cooperation for solution of problems resulting from water shortage at present and in future, finding successful ways and means for management of shared water resources, reaching a fair division of these waters among riparian countries, and taking into consideration Iraq’s rights of first use qualitatively and quantitatively according to international law and conventions have received special and close attention. Furthermore, it is essential to put into effect whatever is necessary for exchanging the hydro-metrological data among the riparian countries and to put plans for operation of existing dams and future projects.

Iraq’s water rights and to receive its fair share of water through signing of obligatory agreements with neighboring countries in order to secure fair division of these waters.

In spite of the fact that a number of agreements and bilateral protocols between Iraq and neighboring countries concerning fair division and Iraq’s right to first use of shared water resources exist, there are no obligatory agreements according to international law and conventions. This situation might cause problems among these countries in the future. In this regard the following agreements and protocols are listed here below:

Iraq Viz. Turkey:

  • Agreement between Turkey and the allies of the First World War signed in Lausanne, Switzerland on 24th July 1922. Its article 109 states the necessity to protect rights to first use of water resources for Syria and Iraq in Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
  • Agreement between Turkey and Iraq signed on March 29, 1946 of which Protocol No. 1 as an appendix to this agreement included rules for organized beneficial use from waters of these two rivers
  • Article No. 3 of the Technical and Economic Cooperation Protocol between Iraq and Turkey in 1971 there is a clause stating: “The two parties have discussed the problems related to share water resources in the region”.
  • Protocol between Iraq and Turkey of 1980 to which Syria has joined in 1983 which stated: “The formulation of a joint committee for regional water resources sharing among Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The responsibilities of the committees is to study the affairs concerning these regional water resources and in particular Tigris and Euphrates
  1. Iraq viz. Syria:
  • Agreement between the mandated countries of Britain and France on behalf of Syria and Iraq signed on December 3, 1920. Article no. 3 of this agreement stated:” The formulation of a committee to study any Syrian project which could increase or decrease the inflow of Euphrates river into Iraq at the border between Syria and Iraq.
  • Agreement of April 17, 1989 signed between Iraq and Syria for dividing Euphrates River water flow at Syria-Turkey border so that 58% of this flow goes to Iraq and 42% goes to Syria.
  • Agreement in 2002 between Iraq and Syria to install in Syria a Water Pumping Station on Tigris River. This agreement was based on UN resolution of 1997 as an agreed upon reference. This agreement allows Syria to install a water pumping station on Tigris River downstream Al-Khabur tributary to withdraw 1.25 Billion CUM of water annually. This station will be on the right banks of Tigris River at the international boundary between Syria and Turkey. This necessitates compensating this amount of water to Iraq by increasing Iraq’s share from Euphrates River.
  1. Iraq Viz. Iran:
  • Constantinople Protocol between Iran and the Ottoman Empire in 1913 between Britain and Russia secures reaching and delineating borders between the Ottoman Empire and Persia. After this agreement another agreement was reached in 1937. After submitting a conflict case between Iraq and Iran to the League of Nations Agency in accordance with Astana Protocol of 1913 and the minutes of meetings of the Committee for Delineation of Borders in 1914, this agreement was cancelled and unrecognized by Iran in 1969.
  • Agreement of 1975 was reached between Iraq and Iran called Algiers Accord, which stated: “conducting comprehensive delineation of land borders between Iraq and Iran and the marine borders of Shat El Arab and to organize beneficial use of rivers crossing the borders of these two countries based on what was stated in Astana Protocol of 1913 and the minutes of the meeting of the Committee for Delineation of Borders in 1914. This agreement was cancelled by Iraq when Iranian Iraqi wars started in 1980.

It is clear from what has been mentioned here above that Turkey and Iran in spite of continuous discussions and meetings with Iraq, both countries have no desire for reaching agreements and let things go as they are for Turkey and Iran to use all resources in their countries as they desire. Furthermore, effluent discharges from agricultural, industrial and domestic sources of pollution of the rivers and the expanding fast development in the catchments of these two rivers especially in Euphrates River in Turkey and Syria and also in Iran are causing deterioration of Water Resource in Iraq.

Since 2003 up until the new Ministry of Water Resources was established and through its different constituents has carried out many activities and different interventions for improving the water resources situation and facing the drought periods of this year and the previous years.  The Ministry has done its best in planning for optimum utilization of water resources in Iraq including development of its uses,  introducing modern irrigation methods such as sprinkler and drip irrigation and spreading these methods as much as possible in suitable places, use of Geographic Information Systems for development of technical and administrative processes, coordination with other sectors consuming water specially agricultural, municipality and domestic uses for protection and conservation of surface and groundwater from pollution, paying attention to the environmental aspects, meeting water demands needed for agricultural lands during summer and winter seasons, focusing on land reclamation works to utilize largest areas possible, consruction of large and small dams to store water for hydropower, implementation of modern subsurface irrigation and drainage networks, water control structures on rivers and its tributaries, and construction of barrages, bridges and pumping stations for irrigation and drainage as per the capital investment plans of Iraq in addition to maintenance of existing irrigation projects. All these works and activities will lead to improvement of irrigation, reduction of salinity and water logging and improvement of agricultural production and conservation of stored water as per storage capacities of lakes and reservoirs on Tigris River and its tributaries and Euphrates River the total of which amounts to 121.07 BCM at the average operational levels of these reservoirs including their dead storage capacities excluding Al Rezaza lowlands as it is a closed land used for flood protection to conserve water for various uses as explained in the following table:


The Ministry is conducting a study on climate change in Iraq and its impact on the subject of drought. The Ministry also seeks to draw-up serious policy for reducing water losses at the farm level and for distribution of water for to all users.

As a conclusion, the inflows from Tigris and Euphrates Rivers are way below average discharges of previous years as the average present inflow is 19.43 BCM from Tigris River in comparison with previous average inflow from this River including its tributaries which was 49.48 BCM and from Euphrates River it was 30.3 BCM before the construction of Al-GAP project in Turkey ; it is expected that inflows of Euphrates River to Iraq after completion of Al-GAP project will reach 8.45 BCM from Euphrates River and 9.16 BCM from Tigris River assuming that all irrigation projects and storages as planned in Turkey and Syria would be implemented, and in the absence of an agreement determining the share of each country.

The present total water demand for different needs of Iraq amounts to 60.00 BCM excluding the demand for sustainability and restoration of Al-ahwar which amounts to 16 BCM. Future water demands of Iraq will reach to 77 BCM.

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10th August 1944 / Sulaimaniya, Iraq
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Water Resources in Iraq

Water Resources in Iraq