Tigris and Euphrates Rivers

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River systems that join to drain into the Persian Gulf.

The Tigris (Arabic, Shatt Dijla ; Turkish, Dicle ) rises in a lake in the mountains north of Diyarbakir, in southeastern Turkey. It picks up major tributaries, the Zab rivers, downstream from Mosul, then the Diyala, just past Baghdadflowing some 1,180 miles (1,900 km). It ends at the confluence of the Euphrates, in southeast Iraq, to form the Shatt al-Arab, which empties into the Gulf. With its short tributaries flowing directly from the mountains, it floods in April, about one month before the Euphrates, and with about 50 percent greater flow.

The Euphrates (Arabic, Furat ; Turkish, Firat ) also originates in Turkey, from a spring in the Taurus mountains. It flows for 1,740 miles (2,800 km), passing through northern Syria and providing that country with an important water source. In 1973, Syria completed construction of the large Euphrates Dam. From Syria, the Euphrates flows into Iraq, where it joins the Tigris.

Since the Sumerian era (3500 b.c.e.), canals have connected tributaries to the Tigris-Euphrates confluence area, although the lower course was farther west at that time. The capitals of great empiresAshur, Nineveh, Seleucia, Ctesiphon, and Baghdadwere built on or near its banks. In 1990, Turkey completed the Atatürk Dam, the first of twenty-two dams, as well as a series of hydroelectric power stations, planned for the Tigris and Euphrates. Turkey's huge diversion of water may pose serious problems for countries such as Syria and Iraq. Most of Iraq's future irrigation schemes rely on Tigris water.


Shapland, Greg. Rivers of Discord: International Water Disputes in the Middle East. New York: St. Martin's, 1997.

john r. clark