Iraq’s water is as important to the United States as control of Iraq’s oil. The Middle East is home to five percent of the world’s population and only one percent of the world’s renewable water supply.[1] In addition, the population in the Arab world is 280 million people. This population, comparable in size to the population of the United States, is on track to double by the year 2025.[2] Iraq is a critical strategic location for both al Qaeda and the United States not just because of Iraq’s oil, but because Iraq has the most extensive fresh water system in the Middle East.

A nation without enough water is in a worse position than a nation without enough oil. Understanding the role of water in the Middle East explains why there is no exit strategy from Iraq and why many Middle East experts predict the United States will be in Iraq for decades. Even Donald Rumsfeld, with a track record of being overly optimistic about the cost and duration of the Iraq war, is now setting expectations that the war will continue until 2017.[3]

There is a saying in the Arab world that the person who controls the well also controls the people. Knowing that Iraq’s water is a key reason our soldiers are being maimed and killed, can help you evaluate what is really going on in the Middle East. Pieces to the puzzle, like the locations of the 14 “enduring” or permanent military bases and likely duration of the American occupation, can suddenly become crystal clear when you consider the locations of the Euphrates, Tigris, Greater Zab and Lesser Zab rivers. One only need look at the Nasiriyah “enduring base” on the Euphrates in South-East Iraq to understand the strategic value of water.

Water conflicts have been frequent in the Middle East. Israel is another country that needs a new source of fresh water to satisfy the needs of a growing population. As background, Israel and its neighbors experienced water-related fighting in 1951, 1953, 1965-66, 1967, 1969, 1982 and 2001.[4] Today, about 30 percent of Israel’s water comes from the Jordan, 40 percent from ground water, and 30 percent from treated wastewater.[5] Even if Israel does not withdraw from the Golan Heights, where the Mountain Aquifer is located, the supply of fresh water is insufficient for the area’s population.[6] Syria is unwilling and unable to help. Turkey’s Manavgat River could provide some relief. The problem with obtaining water from Turkey is, without alternative sources of water, Israel will increasing become dependent on a Muslim nation for a strategic resource.

Iraq , with the region’s most abundant water resources, was out of the question as an Israeli source of water prior to the Iraq war. Israel for reasons that include and extend beyond water, hopes that the U.S. will be successful in pacifying Iraq. Control of Iraq’s rivers could alter the destiny of the Middle East for decades. While the Bush administration fears that Americans will not support fighting a war to control Iraq’s water, Americans deserve to know the truth. The truth is that in addition to oil, water is a real reason for the invasion of Iraq. Our soldiers, their parents, and all citizens have a right to know when the price that is required is in blood and in billions of dollars. Don’t be fooled by the occasional messages that our troops will leaving in a few years. The Pentagon is planning on occupying Iraq for decades. The Pentagon’s long-range strategic plan is likely to require an American occupation far beyond Donald Rumsfeld’s optimistic 2017 forecast.

David J. Dionisi is a former military intelligence officer and author of American Hiroshima. American Hiroshima describes the next 9/11 attack in the United States and what can be done to prevent it. For information about the book, visit

  1. Diane Raines Ward, Water Wars: Drought, Flood, Folly and the Politics of Thirst ( New York, New York: Riverhead Books, June 2003), 188.
  2. Arab Human Development Report 2004: Towards Freedom in the Arab World, United Nations Development Programme Regional Bureau for Arab States, 2005.
  3. “Rumsfeld braces for more violence in Iraq: Says insurgency could endure ‘for any number of years,’ perhaps until 2017,” Associated Press, 26 June 2005 .
  4. Peter Gleick, The Worlds Water 2002-2003: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resources ( Washington, DC: Island Press, 2002), 198-205.
  5. Ibid., 269.
  6. Yedidya Atlas, “ Israel’s Water Basics,” commentator for Arutz-7 Israel National Radio, article online on 20 September 2004. Internet address is The West Bank provides 25% of Israel’s water. The water supply is stored in three main sources (i.e., Lake Kinneret, the Coastal Aquifer, and the Mountain or Yarkon-Taninim Aquifer).
  7. Marq De Villers, Water: The Fate Of Our Most Precious Resource ( New York, New York: First Mariner Books, 2001), 200. In 1997, Minister of Agriculture Refael Eitan said that Israel would be in mortal danger if it lost control of the Mountain Aquifer.