The Land Between the Rivers

Suzanne Sahib


     Iraq is famous for its two rivers, the Tigris and The Euphrates. Historically, Iraq was known in Europe as “Mesopotamia” (the land between the rivers). During the last 30 years the environment of these two rivers has been greatly affected by pollution and drought. The two important causes of these problems were the wars that Iraq went through and the water management policies of Iraq’s neighboring countries.

            The wars in Iraq had great consequences on the environment of the two great rivers. First, during the Iraq-Iran war, Saddam Hussein dried the Marshallese, which is part of the Tigris and Euphrates water system. The Saddam regime destroyed and drained 60% of the wetland in order to permit military access and gain control over the native Marsh Arabs. Moreover, during the 1991 Gulf war against Iraq, many dams and sewage water treatment plants were targeted and destroyed. Sewage directly flowed into the Tigris and Euphrates because there wasn’t any available water treatment as a result of the attacks. In addition, pollution had seeped from chemical bombed plants into the rivers. Also, during the 2003 war, the sewage treatment system was damaged by frequent bombing and power blackouts, which further polluted the two rivers. In addition, almost two hundred plastic barrels which contained uranium were stolen from a nuclear power plant in southern Baghdad.  The toxic chemical content of these barrels was dumped into the rivers.

            In addition, the way that Iraq’s neighboring countries have been managing their water policies has affected the Tigris and Euphrates badly. The two rivers flow from the mountains of Turkey and pass through the Syrian border, so Turkey and Syria control the headwaters of both rivers. Turkey implemented the GAP project (a public- works project) in order to capture the water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; the plan is to build 22 dams, for irrigation and hydroelectric energy purposes. Many dams have already been built, such as the Ataturk Dam, which is the world's fourth-largest dam. Syria has also constructed several dams and water development projects on the Tigris and Euphrates. First, Syria constructed the huge Tabqa Dam and then built three more after that. These construction projects have made the water quantities released by Turkey and Syria insufficient.

            In conclusion, during the last three decades, the two great Iraqi rivers, The Tigris and The Euphrates, have been contaminated and depleted. These problems were caused by the several wars Iraq went through and the huge construction projects that Turkey and Syria have been building to control the water supply of the two rivers. The good thing is the wars are over, but the Iraqi government should negotiate with its neighboring countries to stop the construction that is affecting the flow of water to these two rivers.