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article imageISIS 'Water War' draining marshes in Southern Iraq

By Kesavan Unnikrishnan     Jul 7, 2015 in Environment
ISIS has cut off water supplies to the Mesopotamia Marshlands after capturing dams along the Euphrates River destroying wildlife and the livelihoods of the local people.
In 1991, then-President Saddam Hussein drained the marshes of southern Iraq in order to punish the indigenous Shi'ite marsh Arabs who had revolted against him. Up to 500,000 marsh Arabs who herded water buffalo and cultivated rice since the ancient Sumerian civilization were forced to live in refugee camps in other parts of Iraq and Iran.
With the breaching of dikes by local communities subsequent to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the marshes were re-flooded and many local buffalo breeders returned to the area. However, the marshes never expanded above 30 percent of their initial size and the population never reached their pre-1990 levels.
Islamic State, which has taken strategic locations along the Euphrates in both Iraq and in Syria, are once again deliberately cutting water supplies to Southern Iraqi Provinces, drying out the wetlands. The flow of water in the Euphrates has dropped below 50 percent of its normal level since Islamic State closed the Ramadi barrage in Anbar Province in early June.
Matthew Machowski, a research fellow at Queen Mary University of London, told Radio Free Europe:
History is repeating itself all over again. The control of water barrages and hydroelectric works have always been of great geostrategic importance in Iraq. In an area where summer temperatures and the risk of drought are high, and the levels of basic sanitation extremely poor, any effort to disrupt the flow of water may have catastrophic results.
The Iraqi government was already engaged in a water war with Turkey accusing the country of violating water-sharing agreements by building dams along the Euphrates River.
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