IRAQ depends on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers for drinking water, supplying industry and irrigating massive swathes of farmland. The two rivers account for 98% of the country’s surface water. Until recently the government’s greatest concern has been the fact that the source of neither river is in the country. In the past few decades dams and diversions across Turkey and Syria have steadily reduced the quantity of water reaching Iraq.
Now Iraq has a greater concern. Both waterways flow through areas of northern Iraq controlled by the Islamic State (IS), an extremist group that grew out of al-Qaeda in Iraq and today claims an area the size of Jordan straddling Syria and Iraq. On August 8th America began air strikes against the group, after IS carried out a series of attacks that targeted minorities including Christians and Yazidis and threatened the semi-autonomous northern area of Kurdistan. In one of those attacks, on August 7th, IS took control of Mosul dam.This is a situation where control of the water can be used for "good" (growing food for the people who are on your side), but more likely for evil (by either withholding water from others, or by flooding areas downstream from the dams--especially Baghdad). The Kurdish areas in the north of Iraq seem best positioned to avoid being manipulated by water because they have reasonable supplies over which they have control. The availability of water is a generally overlooked aspect of populations at risk in the world, but is really one of those "bottom-line" issues when it comes to human survival.