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Tigris and Euphrates Policy Framework and Decisions

Page history last edited by nixonbl@dukes.jmu.edu 11 years, 11 months ago


Policy Framework and Decision Making


     The growing issue of water scarcity directly increases the concern of international water conflict between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Turkey has no motive to accommodate the downstream nations because of its convenient upstream location and military power. To date, there is no tri-country or tripartite agreement between the three countries of concern.

     The modern secular government of Turkey was founded in 1923, and the Turkish military assume themselves to be the guardian of the Turkish ideology (Politics of Turkey). In turn the Turkish military has assumed certain control over public confrontations without government permission. Although the Turkish community trusts their military, there have been some unconstitutional situations involving the military and the prime minister. To date there have been some military personnel that have been charged with terrorism as recent as 2008, and 2010, in an attempt to overthrow the Prime Minister (Politics of Turkey). Even though there has been some political unrest, the country of Turkey has maintained their membership with theCouncil of Europe since 1949, an organization between European countries for legal standards and cultural co-operation. Turkey has acceded to the European Union. The application to the EU does take several years to approve and, due to the current economic issues in Turkey, acceptance is not guaranteed.

    The government of Syria, or the “Syrian Arab Republic”, is “officially a parliamentary republic” which means that a President and family rule over the people (Politics of Syria). There have only been two presidents in Syria since 1963. Hafiz al-Asad assumed power in the year 1970 until the year 2000 when he died. After his death, his son, Bashas, assumed power. The president and senior aides make the decisions for the people, but laws must be approved by the People’s Council, unless Syria is in a state of emergency, which was the case from 1963 until April 2011. The Syrian constitution requires the president to be Muslim, but Islam cannot be the religion of the state (Politics of Syria). However, the judicial system is based on “French, Ottoman, and Islamic laws” per the politics of Syria article. Syria participates, and holds memberships in global organizations including the World Health Organization, the International Chamber of Commerce, and an extensive list of other organizations.


        “The federal government of Iraq is defined under the current constitution as an Islamic, democratic, federal parliament republic” (Politics of Iraq). The  Iraqi government is a multi-party system containing an executive, legislative and judicial branches. Over the last few years Iraq has been engaged with foreign troops from other countries fighting within their country. Iraq has had to deal with political unrest for several years, and the government has not been able to focus on the water conflict regarding negotiations. However, the citizens living in Iraq who rely on the rivers as a resource deal with the water conflict on a daily basis.


     In 2005, Iraq held National Assembly of Iraq elections. The new assembly had the burden and the honor of writing a new Constitution of Iraq (Politics of Iraq). The Iraqi presidential election occurred in 2010. In November of 2010, Jalal Talabani was named the president of Iraq. At this time with a new government in place, negotiations over the water rights, and water allocations can resume with realistic results for the three countries involved.


     Meanwhile, Turkey has continued one of the world’s largest development projects, the GAP, and a main concern for why a tri-country or tripartite agreement may never be reached.The project has many sections including thirteen major sectors to develop hydropower plants and irrigating the surrounding regions. As mentioned before, twenty-two dams and nineteen hydroelectric power plants will be installed along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers and their tributaries, generating 27 billion kwh of electricity per year. The Turkish government believes the GAP program is a solution to many of the obstacles for developing higher standards of living including irrigating 1.7 million hectares of farm land and creating 3.3 million jobs (ICE case studies).

        GAP started in 1936, when the Electricity Studies Administration was founded to produce solutions to utilize the rivers in Turkey for energy but action did not take place until the 1970s. The GAP project began construction of dams, irrigation, and hydro-plants. The government and project leaders knew this project would lead into higher standards of living for the Turkish people. The project status halted when high levels of terrorism threatened future development. Kurdish terrorists (PKK) damaged several dams and canals, along with killing workers on site. "Right now the flows coming into Iraq are about a third to half what they were twelve years ago, before Turkey put in the dams, and the water quality is much poorer," per the director of the environmental laboratory of the Army Corps of engineers (Reed).

     The United Nations and the International Law Commission (ILC) have been working together since 1970 to develop international laws between the riparian states. They worked to define the ‘acquired’ rights of the waters and investigated if historical usage played a significant role. In 1994, the International Law Commission submitted a draft of articles on non-navigational uses of international watercourses and ways to cooperate between riparian states. However, these articles have not been addressed or implemented because of the definition Turkey uses to describe the Tigris and Euphrates as its “tributary” rivers to the Shatt Al Arab river

        Iraq has been a key player as a Euphrates River consumer since Mesopotamian times. More recently, the Soviet Union had helped to develop new land uses and irrigation systems until 2000. These plans were then disregarded when Saddam Hussein’s rule of power and the Gulf Wars disabled any further action. During the 1990's Hussein drained a section of the Iraqi marshlands causing the area to turn to desert within a two year time scale. His decision was strategic in nature, claiming that the the dry land will increase agriculture, and possibly oil fields. However, draining the marshlands destroyed the diverse wildlife that inhabited the watery environment. As the story unfolded Hussein, a Sunni, primary target was the human inhabitants of the marshlands, the Marsh-Arabs known as Shiites. Another consequence of the lost marshlands was discovered while observing the miles of cracked, dry dirt that was heavily saturated with pesticides and salt. "The former marshes did a competent job of cleaning the water that flowed slowly through them on its way to the Gulf, but that system is largely broken" (Reed). Restoration of the marshlands is an ongoing process, plants and wildlife cannot be restored overnight. Some of the re-flooded land has proved to be unsuccessful in regrowth due to the increase of salinity in the dry soil. It has been suggested that in order for the marshlands to flourish a constant stream of water must flow through them to revive the life of this water environment.

     Even though Iraq and Syria are both unhappy with the Turkish use of the river basin, the two countries are not in alliance to fix the problem. Hostilities started when Syria began developing Lake Assad, leaving the flow of the river insignificant for Iraq. Iraq reported to the Arab League to help in their favor. Syria retaliated by disaffiliating with the Arab league on the issue. By 1975, relations were almost violent, Syria closed airspace and both countries gathered troops along the borders. Before any further action, an unofficial deal was made that Syria would keep forty percent of the water from the Euphrates river and allow sixty percent to flow into Iraq.

        In response to the dissatisfaction of neighboring riparian states, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel spoke of the frustration of the nation, “Neither Syria or Iraq can lay claim to Turkey’s rivers any more than Ankara could claim their oil. This is a matter of sovereignty” (ISAT).  He claims the water located within their country is a resource as much as oil is a resource for Iraq.





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