By Dr. Frank Musmar
In the last decade, less water has been reaching the Tigris in Iraq from the Iranian side due to the building of a series of dams on the tributary rivers of the Tigris, such as the Little Zab, Karkh, Karun, Alwand, and Diyala, which lessen downstream Iraq’s share affecting Iraq’s southern provinces.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, 12 dams were built on the Sirvan River that feeds the Diyala Tributary River between 2001 and 2019, and 5 dams were built on the Karkh tributary river between 2011 and 2017. Moreover, a giant dam called Gotvand was constructed on the Karun tributary river that supplies 75 percent of Basra’s water consumption in 2012, diminishing the historical marshlands in southern Iraq and the Shatt Al-Arab River.
The Mesopotamian Marshes wetland that was once the largest ecosystem in western Eurasia is shrinking despite restoration efforts. The drainage of the marshes along with dam structures causes severe salinization in rivers, including the Karun. Iran extracts water from this river and discharges harmful water into the Shatt al-Arab, which further increases salinity.
In northern Iraq, The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the spokesperson for Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources have accused Iran of diverting the Tigris in the north to feed Lake Urmia, causing a reported 80% drop in the water levels in the Little Zab, by which violating international law which prohibits harmful disruptions in natural river flows. The Kurdistan Regional Government warned that the diversion could take away 100% of drinking water in parts of Iraqi Kurdistan, deplete its agriculture resources, harm farmland, wildlife, tourism, fishing projects, and a major catastrophe in the next few years precipitate mass human migration.
On the other hand, in the Al Ahwaz region located south and southwestern Iran, Iran’s drought policies are an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Ahwazi people, the indigenous Arab people inhabiting Ahwaz targeting their water supplies to starve their lands and coerce their emigration.
The Iranian damming and diversion projects blocked the region’s five main rivers that once irrigated the rich alluvial plains. The massive reduction in water flow from the two largest rivers, the Karkheh and Karoon (Karun), has had a devastating effect on Ahwaz, causing desertification and water shortage, fires, the death of thousands of animals, including fish, cattle, and buffalo that is making life unbearable for nearly three million of Ahwazi population, particularly in the southern Ahwazi cities of Abadan, Muhammarah and Falahiyeh.
Accordingly, protests erupted in the Ahwaz region on the 10th of July; however, the Iranian regime forces responded by brutal attacks using tanks, armored vehicles, and hundreds of heavily armed troops and militiamen on civilians’ protesters, arresting hundreds, injuring dozens, and killing 9 Ahwazi protesters in violation to comment No. 37 of the UN Human Rights.
The UN Human Rights Committee stated in its General Comment No. 37 that “firearms are not an appropriate tool for the policing of assemblies, and must never be used simply to disperse an assembly. Any use of firearms by law enforcement officials in the context of assemblies must be limited to targeted individuals in circumstances in which it is strictly necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
Despite the outrage, the response by the Arab states, the international community, and media reports has been limited. Arab countries suffered from the Iranian regime, trying to destabilize the whole region, transferring terrorists to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon; however, they failed to support their ancestors in Ahwaz.