The Kurdish region’s dam projects a new dispute with the Iraqi central government.

While recent dust storms sparked by Turkish dam construction projects on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers have exposed the region to a serious environmental problem, the Kurdistan region of Iraq is moving towards the construction of more dams in the areas under its control, perhaps making matters worse except for Iraq itself.

The media said that Erbil, in an uncoordinated move with the Iraqi central government, signed a contract with the company PowerChina for the construction of four new dams.

This agreement comes as the ninth cabinet of the Kurdistan region in northern Iraq has put the construction of three dams on the agenda and with the new agreement, 7 dams would be practically under construction on the Tigris. This has provoked a new backlash from central government politicians, who are heated over the consequences of such plans.

But what would be the real implications of the projects? And to what extent can they be a source of tension between Baghdad and Erbil?

More serious project in southern Iraq

Undoubtedly, the first and most tangible consequence of the construction of the Erbil dam is a severe drought in southern and central Iraq. Currently, the two dams of Darbandikhan and Dukan are the two main sources of water from the north to the lower parts of Iraq. Iraqi regions, especially the south and center, have been struggling with drought in recent years and this threat has even increased in the near past, with drought reaching alarming levels.

In addition, the construction of new dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers will lead to a major demographic and migration crisis inside Iraq in the near future.

In recent years, water shortages and droughts have become a major crisis for Iraqis, and have even led to popular protests in southern and central provinces.

Should more dams be built in the north, migration would be a predictable and inevitable crisis in the not-too-distant future and could turn into a big political issue in Iraq. This prospect requires measures from Baghdad to settle the problem with Erbil from now on.

How can the Erbil dam projects cause a political crisis in Iraq?

At first glance, dam construction may seem like an environmental rather than a political issue, but the reality is that in the new era, environmental policy is one of the most political areas that is important not only internally but also regionally and even internationally. This is also true for Iraq, impacting its future equations.

Regarding the special political significance of the Kurdistan Regional Government dams on the Tigris and Euphrates, it is important to mention that under current conditions Erbil cannot exploit the projects politically, but in the future, he can easily instrumentalize them to pressure Baghdad in the usual political affairs. or even for independence. Since 2003, Erbil and the central government have been at odds over a range of political, economic and legal issues. The water crisis and dams may be a new case of division between the two.

During the days of the Kurdistan Region’s referendum in 2017, various analysts pointed to water resources as a card potentially guaranteeing Erbil’s smooth move towards independence. They suggested cutting off water flow to the south and center in response to Baghdad’s budget cuts or border closures with the autonomous region. The new barrage may even strengthen Erbil’s position and be used to wrest privileges from Baghdad. The problem is so great that in the event of failure to meet the potential challenge, the dispute over the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may stimulate the partition of Iraq and lead to the risk of civil conflict in the country.

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