Save the Tigris

Three Reasons Why Some People Downplay the Risk of the Ilisu Dam on Iraq?

In this intervention, the Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign aims to review the three most important reasons why concerned Iraqi authorities downplay

By coordinator

In this intervention, the Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign aims to review the three most important reasons why concerned Iraqi authorities downplay the risk of the Ilisu dam on Iraq, the campaign will explain its vision on all of these reasons and will put forward a proposal to counter the threat of the Ilisu dam on the Tigris River and the right of Iraqis to water in general.

The First Reason: The Ilisu Dam is a hydroelectric dam that will allow the flow of water towards Iraq to generate electricity

Some speculate about the nature of the Ilisu Dam, that it will force the Turkish side to allow water to flow, so it does not represent a major threat to Iraq.

Our campaign believes that this is a simplification of the problem and it is a fallacy regarding the risk of the Ilisu dam due to the following factors:

  • The Tigris River in the Turkish side is currently a free river without big dams, and the Ilisu dam now under construction is the largest and first of its kind. The construction of the dam will allow Turkey to have full control over the waters of the Tigris as it is happening now to the Euphrates River.
  • If allowed, the completion of the Ilisu dam construction will open the door and pave the way for Turkey to begin building a system of irrigation dams on the Tigris River such as Cizre dam and others.
  • The Ilisu Dam will require years to be filled, at the expense of Iraq’s imports of water, and after running the dam, the quality and quantity of the water flowing to Iraq would be affected significantly. Most of this water will first pass through water turbines of the project, which will affect the water quality and the biodiversity in the ecosystem.

The Second Reason: The Iraqi government has no legal basis to stand against the Turkish government to demand the halt of the Ilisu Dam construction

Some claim that because Turkey has not signed a transboundary water treaty with Iraq, and has not ratified the Convention on the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses, Iraq does not have the right to call on Turkey to halt the dam construction. Our campaign believes that this assessment is inaccurate.

Turkey is bound by both the 1923 Lausanne Agreement, and by its 1946 good-neighbor treaty with Iraq, which together require Turkey to share common water resources with Iraq, and provide that water conflicts that cannot be resolved are to be referred to the U.N. Security Council. ‫ Further, the rules of customary international law oblige upstream countries such as Turkey to consider and prevent transboundary environmental impacts, and to consult with downstream countries in the event they plan to build facilities on the common rivers that impact those countries.

In summary, Iraq has the right to demand a halt to the construction of the Ilisu dam through direct negotiations or an international arbitration request, and if the Turkish side refuses to do so, then the matter can be referred to the U.N. Security Council, not least because the lack of water will threaten peace and coexistence on the banks of Mesopotamia. Our campaign has worked on a legal study on Ilisu dam that can be found here.

The Third Reason: Iraq is trying to negotiate with Turkey over water shares, which includes the problem of Ilisu and others,

The campaign does not agree with this view at all, and considers it as negligence against Iraq’s rights. The reason is that there are two different and separated aspects in the dispute with Turkey, which are:

  • The Euphrates River suffers from Turkey’s control of its water, and therefore there must be negotiations on water shares in accordance with international law and the rules of good neighborliness and on the basis of the inherent right of Iraqis to the water of Mesopotamia.
  • In the case of the Tigris River, dams are not yet built, and the Ilisu dam is still unfinished. Iraq has the right, in accordance with international law, to demand Turkey to halt the construction until assessing the Ilisu dam’s impact on humans, the environment and the natural diversity of Iraq.

In conclusion, the Tigris River is a very important artery for Iraq; which is threatened by a large stroke represented by the Ilisu dam. Therefore, our campaign is representing its vision which can be summarized as follows: Iraq must start a campaign to stop the Ilisu dam and take actions in accordance with international law, requesting negotiation and arbitration and then if that does not work, Iraq can go to the Security Council to submit a complaint and request the resolution of this dispute.