It seems that geographic realities linking Iraq to Iran have caused inescapable problems that are compounding their turbulent political relations. Issues between Baghdad and Tehran go beyond problems of borders and oil field demarcation, extending to water supplies. Iraq accuses Iran of cutting river water flowing from its territory and thus affecting Iraqi marshes and causing drought. In contrast, Iranian authorities accuse Iraq of ignoring what is happening in the Hawizeh Marshes, which have been suffering from severe drought and fires. The Hawizeh Marshes straddle the Iraq and Iran border. The marshes are fed by two branches of the Tigris River in Iraq and Karkheh River in Iran.
In response to Iranian accusations, Iraqi experts said that Iran is responsible for the drought that hit the marshes after it blocked the flow of its rivers. The drought later contributed to the break out of fires during blistering summers. The marshes is a joint water plateau between the two countries with an estimated area of 1,350 km in Iraq and 1,250 km in Iraq, Hawizeh Marshes expert Jassem Al-Assadi told Asharq Al-Awsat. “Iranians objected to including Hawizeh Marshes in the 2016 World Heritage List,” Assadi added. Iran wanted to include the part which lies within its territory, but it was refused because it was carrying out actions that harm the marshes’ environment. Assadi went on to list Iran’s actions, which include cutting off all the water inflow into marshes by constructing three dams along the Karakh River. More so, he stressed that there is no valid justification for current Iranian complaints, and that existing documents condemn Iranian actions, not Iraqis.
A senior Iranian official had threatened to take legal action against Iraq if evidence is found to prove that the fires that swept across the Hawizeh Marshes were deliberate. According to the Ramsar Convention, signed in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1975, no country was allowed to build any dam that prevents water from reaching the wetland.