Skip to main content

In managing water crisis, can Turkey and Iraq bridge gap without Syria?

Turkey and Iraq need to bring Syria into the fold to resettle the historical water sharing problems between the three countries, according to experts and officials.
The Euphrates river near Dura Europos (Tell Salhiye), Syria. Iraq is just several miles downstream.

Turkey and Iraq do not want to end up high and dry in the age of climate change, so they are pushing ahead with their bilateral talks on how to manage the waters of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Experts and officials who spoke to Al-Monitor say that, while there won’t be a quick breakthrough, the fact that the two countries might discuss their water woes so candidly is itself a major achievement.

The second round of the talks between the Turkey-Iraq permanent joint committee on water met in Baghdad on July 1, according to Turkish and Iraqi news outlets. The two countries established the committee in August to address the historical water sharing dispute. The Euphrates and Tigris are major river systems that emerge in Turkey. The Euphrates takes a long route through Syria and then enters Iraq, where it joins the Tigris (which flows directly from Turkey into Iraq), forming the Shatt al-Arab in southern Iraq.

Since the 1960s Turkey has built several mega dams and more than a dozen smaller ones on both the Euphrates and the Tigris for irrigation and hydropower, much to the chagrin of Syria and Iraq. Damascus and Baghdad have also built their own dams, although on a more limited scale.

While Syria and Iraq have accused Turkey of releasing an insufficient amount of water to fill its reservoirs, the Turkish side has criticized its southern neighbors for poorly managing precious water — especially in agriculture. The problems are compounded by both the civil war in Syria and Iraq’s political and socioeconomic woes. Also, all three countries (along with the rest of the region) are now threatened by the global climate crisis.

Access the Middle East news and analysis you can trust

Join our community of Middle East readers to experience all of Al-Monitor, including 24/7 news, analyses, memos, reports and newsletters.


Only $100 per year.