Policy Brief: Navigating the Tigris-Euphrates Water Basin Negotiations: Iraq’s Path Forward

 

Mikaela Bennett

George Washington University, 2017

 

Introduction

 

Negotiations over the use of the Tigris and Euphrates waters have been fitfully pursued ever since the beginning of large scale hydrological development in the region in the mid-1940’s, and yet a comprehensive agreement on the management and use of the water basin remains elusive.  The two watercourses flow through four countries, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, however Iran has proved largely irrelevant to the negotiation process because of the limited amount of water which originates within its borders (Yetim, 2016). The power dynamics of the Tigris-Euphrates basin are characterized by strong asymmetry, with 90% of the waters of the Euphrates and 60% of the Tigris originating in Turkey (“Aquastat”, 2009). However, water rights in this region have not historically been treated in isolation. Decisions regarding bilateral and trilateral water agreements were frequently affected by other political and economic priorities. The primary obstacle to a general agreement has been political volatility in the region. Relations between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq have fluctuated widely both due to internal and external circumstances, and the present situation represents a new low for political stability and accord between countries in the region. Thus, while Turkey dominates the balance of power over the Tigris-Euphrates basin, incentives and disincentives in other areas have opened up room for negotiation and promise to do so in the future.