Sharing the Tigris River Iraq Worried about Turkish Dam

The Ilisu Dam will, when it's finished, provide hydroelectric power in south-eastern Turkey. Iraq, though, is worried it may also cut flows of the vital Tigris River.


Officials in Iraq are angered by Turkish plans to construct a gigantic dam on the river Tigris in southeast Turkey, near the Iraqi border. The so-called Ilisu Dam's 300 square kilometer reservoir would be a significant source of hydroelectric power, and Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at an opening ceremony on Aug. 5 that it "will bring big gains to the local people." But in Iraq, health officials are concerned that these gains will come at the expense of their own people.

"There is no doubt that this will lead to a significant deterioration of the water quality" in Iraq, said Latif Rashid, Baghdad's Minister of Water Resources, in a letter to the Germany-based NGO World Economy, Ecology and Development (WEED). Iraq is also concerned that the new dam project could hamper the flow of water into the country via the 1,900 kilometer long Tigris River. The river begins in Turkey and flows into Iraq through the south-eastern Turkish town of Cizre.

The Ilisu Dam is part of the larger Southeast Anatolia Project, a 21-dam plan to expand hydro-electric energy production in the under-developed and largely Kurdish southeast. But it's a project that is no stranger to international criticism with the Ilisu Dam attracting particular attention. In 1999, the Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) revealed that its completion would result in the flooding of Hasankeyf, an ancient city of particular cultural import to the Kurdish minority. Criticism has only grown since construction started in August.

Now, though, even the German government is worried about the construction's potentially negative effects on Turkey's troubled neighbor, Iraq. The project is being realized by an international consortium of construction firms, including the German firm Züblin. Officials in Berlin now face the delicate decision of granting export credits to a controversial project.

Government officials on Friday said that Ankara would need to guarantee the minimum water levels for neighboring Iraq before it would approve export credits. But WEED spokeswoman Heike Drillisch urged the government not to support the initiative. "The complaints from Baghdad show that international standards and human rights are being ignored," she said.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry reacted with indignation to the accusations. It played down the Iraqi complaints, asserting that Iraqi delegates have not even mentioned the issue in direct talks with Turkey. A spokesperson for the Turkish government gave assurances that minimum water levels would be maintained for Iraq, and that the government is open for talks.

amb/spiegel

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