Civil society representatives from Iraq and Turkey initiate dialogue to defuse tensions over water and security

Published on Friday, 12th of February 2021

This January, CMI brought together civil society representatives from Iraq and Turkey to discuss issues of water security. The meeting, held in Istanbul, focused also on ways to improve the security situation in Northern Iraq.

The Tigris River passes east of Diyarbakir in Turkey. Photo: David Stanley.

Mounting disputes between Iraq and Turkey over water in recent years impede relations between the two countries. The tensions have increased as Turkey has continued to build new hydroelectric dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, depleting water flowing to Iraq. Both rivers run from Turkey through Syria and Iraq. They are Iraq’s main water source and are essential for agriculture.

Climate change, coupled with poor management of water resources, has further exacerbated Iraq’s water crisis.

“Water is the source of life for all human beings. When all sides realize this, water management can move from a conflictual to a cooperative issue,” said CMI’s Iraq Project Manager Moritz Ehrmann.

The meeting’s participants called for the establishment of an independent, joint research centre on water security. This could provide input into water-related issues in an objective and comprehensive way.

The meeting also enhanced dialogue on security problems in Northern Iraq. Participants pointed out that there needs to be a mechanism for the Iraqi and Turkish governments to coordinate their efforts to improve the security situation. .

The Istanbul dialogue could be the first in a series of meetings to increase dialogue between Iraqis and their counterparts from neighbouring countries on key issues affecting the stability of Iraq and the region. External influence creates tensions in Iraq, while different elements within society have various allegiances to these external actors .

“Representatives of different segments of Iraqi society to come together despite their different interests to discuss issues relevant to their country is an important step forward,” said Ehrmann.

This first meeting of civil society representatives was held overlooking the Bosporus in Istanbul and as water was one of the topics, the participants decided that the name of the process would be the Bosporus Initiative.

CMI’s collaboration partners in the initiative are the Iraqi Centre for Conflict Management (IQCM) and the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM).