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Water a weapon of war in Iraq and Syria

In May, Council of Canadians chairperson and Blue Planet Project founder Maude Barlow stated that water is increasingly and deliberately being used as a weapon of war. She said, “Water as a weapon of war is a strong argument to governments and the United Nations they must make real the human right to water and sanitation, regardless of other conflicts taking place.”

In that IPS interview, “Barlow [said] the al-Assad government’s denial of clean water is consistent with its history of using water to punish its enemies and reward its friends. In 2000, the Syrian regime deregulated land use and gave vast quantities of land and water to its wealthy allies, severely diminishing the water table and driving nearly one million small farmers and herders off the land, she added. Ironically and tragically, many of them migrated to Aleppo where they are being targeted again, said Barlow. …[And] during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, the Mesopotamian Marshes were drained, she said. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein drained them further during the 1990s in retribution against Shias who hid there and the Marsh Arabs (Ma’dan) who protected them, she pointed out.”

Sadly we may see water being used as a weapon of war again – by both sides – as the Harper government plans to send CF-18 jet fighters to join U.S.-led bombing missions in Iraq and possibly Syria.

In early September, the International Business Times reported, “Haditha Dam is Iraq’s second biggest hydroelectric facility and also provides millions of Iraqis with water. The Islamic State has targeted a number of dams in Iraq — a region where water is scarce and the dams built on the ancient rivers of the Tigris and the Euphrates are lifelines for local people. Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq, was captured by Islamic State fighters until US airstrikes helped government forces retake the dam.”

And in an iPolitics column, Michael Harris writes critically about the U.S.-bombing mission. “There have been U.S. airstrikes against grain facilities and fuel depots. Problem is, the same strikes that make it hard for ISIS to find food and fuel also deprive everyone else of the same commodities. Starving out the local population to punish your enemy hardly seems like a wise long-term strategy.”

Given Canada is about to join this U.S.-led campaign, will this be part of their mission?

It has been in the past.

Matthew Behrens writes in NOW magazine, “When Canadian CF-18s went on their bombing runs over Iraq in 1991, they deliberately targeted Iraq’s civilian infrastructure and electricity supply, knowing this would eliminate the desert country’s ability to provide clean drinking water to its citizens. One U.S. military document, Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities, noted that wiping out Iraq’s water purification systems ‘could lead to increased incidences, if not epidemics, of disease [cholera, hepatitis, and typhoid]’. Another, Effects of Bombing on Disease Occurrence in Baghdad, bluntly concluded that ‘particularly children’ would be adversely affected.”

Drinking water is a human right. The deliberate targeting of sources of drinking water in any conflict is a denial of that fundamental human right and a violation of international humanitarian law.