Ask Taha Yassin about Iraqi pomegranates and watch his gaze turn dreamy.
“They grow big. Their juice is sweet. They’re incomparable. I don’t say this as a nationalist, as someone who loves their country. It’s just fact,” he said, speaking about them like you would a long-lost love.
In a sense, he was. This corner of Diyala province, which stretches from the center of Iraq to the country’s east, was once famous for its pomegranates. Everywhere you drove, you’d encounter acres of trees laden with blood-red baubles. Yassin had three fields and a vineyard.
Not these days. Standing in one of his plots, Yassin pointed out a few desiccated-looking trees and the churned brown of recently tilled fields. Like other farmers in Diyala, he had given up. Over the last few months he cut down most of his pomegranate trees; he just finished plowing over his vineyard.
“If you saw this area 10 years before, I swear you would think you’re in Eden,” he said.
“But there’s just no water. We couldn’t do it any more.”
Diyala is perhaps the starkest example of Iraq’s impending Great Thirst. The country — fed not by one but two mighty rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates — is thought to be where humans first started cultivation: Mesopotamia, the land of plenty.
But another year of crippling drought and of competition with equally parched neighbors means there isn’t enough water to go around. Both Turkey and Iran have activated dams and tunnels to divert water from tributaries of the Tigris and Euphrates, leaving downstream Iraq — which relies on the two rivers’ largesse for 60% of its freshwater resources — with an acute shortage.
This year, inflows from Turkey fell by almost two-thirds; from Iran they’re about one-tenth of what they were, said Mahdi Rashid Hamdani, Iraq’s minister of water resources, said in an interview.
In desperation, Baghdad has appealed to its neighbors to help mitigate the crisis. In October, the Water Ministry invoked an agreement with Ankara that’s supposed to ensure Turkey’s “fair and equitable” contributions to the Tigris and Euphrates. In Tehran, the appeal has been met with silence, Iraqi officials say.
“Iran hasn’t cooperated with us at all. It diverted rivers to areas inside the country and doesn’t work with us to share the damage from the drought,” Hamdani said, adding that his ministry has…