Shatt al-Arab

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The Shatt al-Arab (Arabic: شط العرب, "Stream of the Arabs") or Arvand (called اروندرود: arvandrūd in Persian), also called the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, is a river in Southwest Asia of some 200 km in length, formed by the confluence of the Euphrates and the Tigris in the town of al-Qurnah in southern Iraq. The southern end of the river constitutes the border between Iraq and Iran down to the mouth of the river as it discharges into the Persian Gulf. It varies in width from a mere 120 feet (37 m) at Basra to 0.5 mile (0.8 km) at its mouth. The Karun river, a tributary which joins the Shatt al-Arab from the Iranian side, deposits copious amounts of silt into the river; this necessitates continuous dredging to keep it navigable. It is thought that the Shatt al-Arab formed relatively recently, with the Tigris and Euphrates originally emptying into the Gulf via a channel further to the west.

Conflicting territorial claims and disputes over navigation rights between Iran and Iraq were among the main factors for the Iraq-Iran War that lasted from 1980 to 1988, when the pre-1980 status quo was restored. The cities of Basra and Umm Qasr are situated along this river, both of which are major ports.

Control of the waterway and its use as a border have been a source of contention between the predecessors of the Iranian and Iraqi states since a peace treaty signed in 1639 between the Persian and the Ottoman Empires, which divided the territory according to tribal customs and loyalties, without attempting a rigorous land survey. The tribes on both sides of the lower waterway, however, are Marsh Arabs, and the Ottoman Empire claimed to represent them. Tensions between the opposing empires that extended across a wide range of religious, cultural and political conflicts, led to the outbreak of hostilities in the 19th century and eventually yielded the Second Treaty of Erzerum between the two parties, in 1847, after protracted negotiations, which included British and Russian delagates. Even afterwards, backtracking and disagreements continued, until British Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, was moved to comment in 1851 that "the boundary line between Turkey and Persia can never be finally settled except by an arbitrary decision on the part of Great Britain and Russia". A protocol between the Young Turks and the Persians was signed in Constantinople in 1913, but World War I cancelled all plans.

The British advisors in Iraq were able to keep the waterway bi-national under the thalweg principle that has worked in Europe (see Danube River): the dividing line was the middle of the waterway. All United Nations attempts to intervene as mediators were rebuffed. Under Saddam Hussein Baathist Iraq claimed the 200-kilometer navigable channel up to the Iranian shore as its territory. But in 1975, Iraq signed the Algiers Accord in which it recognized the line running down the middle of the waterway, as the official border. However, in 1980, Saddam abrogated the treaty he signed, and Iraq invaded Iran. The main thrust of the military movement on the ground was across the Shatt al-Arab. The waterway was the stage for most of the military battles between the two armies. The Shatt al-Arab waterway was Iraq's only outlet to the Persian Gulf, and thus, its shipping lanes were greatly affected by continuous Iranian attacks. When the al-Faw penninsula was captured by the Iranians in 1987, Iraq's shipping activities virtually came to a halt and had to be diverted to other Arab ports, such as Kuwait and even Aqaba, Jordan. Later, and as the Persian Gulf War was looming, Saddam again recognized the Algiers Accord in order to appease Iranians before he could undertake an invasion of Kuwait.

In the latest invasion of Iraq 2003, the Shatt al-Arab was a key military target for Allied Forces. Since it is the only outlet to the Persian Gulf, its capture was important in delivering humanitarian aid to the rest of the country, and also to stop the flow of illegal smuggling operations. The British Royal Marines staged an amphibious assault to capture the key oil installations and shipping docks located on the al-Faw peninsula at the onset of the conflict. Following the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the British Forces conducted military patrols along the Shatt al-Arab waterway, and have begun to train Iraqi forces to take over the responsibility of guarding their waterways.

Also, during the recent conflict in Iraq, British servicemen were held for two days in June 2004 after apparently straying into the Iranian side of the Shatt al-Arab. After being initially threatened with prosecution, they were released after high level conversations between British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, and Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kamal Kharrazi. The initial hardline approach was put down to power struggles within the Iranian government. The British marines' weapons and boats were confiscated.

See also

External links

da:Shatt al-Arab de:Schatt al-Arab fr:Chatt-el-Arab pl:Shatt al-Arab sv:Shatt al-Arab


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