Ilisu Dam: Downstream Water Impacts and Iraq
Report of Fact Finding Mission to Iraq, 29 March 2007

by The Corner House and Kurdish Human Rights Project

first published 25 April 2007


In March 2007, the export credit agencies (ECAs) of Austria, Germany and Switzerland approved financial guarantees for the proposed Ilisu Dam on the River Tigris in the Kurdish region of Southeast Turkey. They stated that Turkey had provided the two downstream countries, Syria and Iraq, with the information these countries had sought about the Dam, and that Iraq had agreed to the project. Neither claim is true, according to Iraq's Minister of Water. By approving funding before Iraq and Syria had been consulted, the ECAs could be in violation of international law.


A consortium of three companies from Austria (VA Tech Hydro), Switzerland (Alstom) and Germany (Zueblin) was formed in 2004 to build Turkey's largest planned hydroelectric project, the Ilisu Dam on the River Tigris, in the Kurdish region of Southeast Turkey.

The consortium asked the government-backed export credit agencies (ECAs) of Austria, Switzerland and Germany to provide financial guarantees to reduce the financial and political risks involved in the project.

If built, the Ilisu dam would have major impacts on Turkey's two downstream neighbours, Syria and Iraq. Under international law, Turkey is obliged to notify, consult and negotiate with the two countries to ensure a fair use of the River Tigris.

In March 2007, the three ECAs approved the finance, stating that Turkey had given Syria and Iraq the information they had requested about the proposed dam. In addition, Iraq was said to have agreed to the project.

This Fact-Finding Mission to Iraq found that:

  • Iraq has not agreed to the proposed dam but had made known its objections at the highest level;
  • Turkey has not provided key information to Iraq;
  • No negotiations have taken place yet between Turkey, Syria and Iraq on Ilisu.

The Fact Finding Mission also examined the conditions that the three ECAs placed on downstream flows and concluded that they are inadequate to safeguard livelihoods in Syria and Iraq. Critically, Turkey has failed to guarantee a minimum downstream flow at the border with Syria. If another proposed dam is built at Cizre, the Ilisu project could reduce the Tigris to a trickle in the summer months.

A legal opinion commissioned by WEED, a German non-governmental organisation, suggests that the ECAs involved could be in potential violation of international law on water sharing.

For more information, see WEED


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