Shatt al-Arab

Last updated
Shatt al-Arab
Arvand Rud
Shat al-arab-22.JPG
Shatt al-Arab near Basra, Iraq
Native name Arabic: شط العرب
Persian: اَروَندرود
CountryIran, Iraq
Physical characteristics
  location TigrisEuphrates confluence at Al-Qurnah and Karun River in Iran [1]
  elevation4 m (13 ft)
Persian Gulf
0 m (0 ft)
Length200 km (120 mi)
Basin size884,000 km2 (341,000 sq mi)
  average1,750 m3/s (62,000 cu ft/s)

Shatt al-Arab (Arabic : شط العرب, Shore of the Arabs), in Iran known as Arvand Rud (Persian : اَروَندرود, Swift River) is a river of some 200 km (120 mi) in length, formed by the confluence of the Euphrates and the Tigris in the town of al-Qurnah in the Basra Governorate of 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 about 232 metres (761 ft) at Basra to 800 metres (2,600 ft) at its mouth. It is thought that the waterway formed relatively recently in geologic time, with the Tigris and Euphrates originally emptying into the Persian Gulf via a channel further to the west.


The Karun River, a tributary which joins the waterway from the Iranian side, deposits large amounts of silt into the river; this necessitates continuous dredging to keep it navigable. [2]

The area is judged to hold the largest date palm forest in the world. In the mid-1970s, the region included 17 to 18 million date palms, an estimated one-fifth of the world's 90 million palm trees. But by 2002, war, salt, and pests had wiped out more than 14 million of the palms, including around 9 million in Iraq and 5 million in Iran. Many of the remaining 3 to 4 million trees are in poor condition. [3]

In Middle Persian literature and the Shahnameh (written between c. 977 and 1010 AD), the name اروندArvand is used for the Tigris, the confluent of the Shatt al-Arab. [4] Iranians also used this name specifically to designate the Shatt al-Arab during the later Pahlavi period, and continue to do so after the Iranian Revolution of 1979. [4]


Map Shatt al arab.png

Shatt al-Arab river is made by the confluence of the Tigris and Eurphates river at Al-Qurnah and continues to end up at the Persian gulf south of the city of Al-Faw. According to a study, the river appears to have formed in the recent Earth's geologic time scale in comparison between lithoaces and biofacies of previous studies. The river may have formed 2000–1600 years prior to the 21st century. [5]


The background of the issue stretches mainly back to the Ottoman-Safavid era, prior to the establishment of an independent Iraq, which happened in the 20th century. In the early 16th century, the Iranian Safavids gained most of what is present-day Iraq, but lost it later by the Peace of Amasya (1555) to the expanding Ottomans. [6] In the early 17th century, the Safavids under king ( shah ) Abbas I (r. 1588–1629) regained it, only to lose it permanently (along, temporarily, with control over the waterway), to the Ottomans by the Treaty of Zuhab (1639). [7] This treaty, which roughly re-established the common borders of the Ottoman and Safavid Empires the way they had been in 1555, never demarcated a precise and fixed boundary regarding the frontier in the south. Nader Shah (r. 1736–1747) restored Iranian control over the waterway, but the Treaty of Kerden (1746) restored the Zuhab boundaries, and ceded it back to the Turks. [8] [9] The First Treaty of Erzurum (1823) concluded between Ottoman Turkey and Qajar Iran, resulted in the same. [10] [11]

The Second Treaty of Erzurum was signed by Ottoman Turkey and Qajar Iran in 1847 after protracted negotiations, which included British and Russian delegates. 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 Ottomans and the Persians was signed in Istanbul in 1913, which declared that the Ottoman-Persian frontier run along the thalweg , but World War I canceled all plans.

Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Iraq 1932-1959 depicting the Shatt and the forest Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Iraq.svg
Coat of arms of the Kingdom of Iraq 1932–1959 depicting the Shatt and the forest

During the Mandate of Iraq (1920–32), the British advisors in Iraq were able to keep the waterway binational under the thalweg principle that worked in Europe: the dividing line was a line drawn between the deepest points along the stream bed. In 1937, Iran and Iraq signed a treaty that settled the dispute over control of the Shatt al-Arab. [12] The 1937 treaty recognized the Iranian-Iraqi border as along the low-water mark on the eastern side of the Shatt al-Arab except at Abadan and Khorramshahr where the frontier ran along the thalweg (the deep water line) which gave Iraq control of almost the entire waterway; provided that all ships using the Shatt al-Arab fly the Iraqi flag and have an Iraqi pilot, and required Iran to pay tolls to Iraq whenever its ships used the Shatt al-Arab. [13] The treaty of 1937 marked a familiar pattern by British empire of Divide and rule that was routinely employed in the Indian subcontinent and other British colonial or influenced regions: it ensured long term if not permanent tension between Iran and Iraq. As opposed to using the thalweg principle as advised during 1920–1932 period, which would have calmed down or ended the river border tensions between the two nations.

The Shatt al-Arab and the forest were depicted in the middle of the coat of arms of the Kingdom of Iraq, from 1932–1959.

Arab ferryman on the Shatt al-Arab 1958 The Arab boatman brings the sailors ashore.jpg
Arab ferryman on the Shatt al-Arab 1958
Evening atmosphere on the Shatt al-Arab Evening atmosphere on the Shatt al-Arab - 1958.png
Evening atmosphere on the Shatt al-Arab

Under Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the late 60s, Iran developed a strong military and took a more assertive stance in the Near East. [12] In April 1969, Iran abrogated the 1937 treaty over the Shatt al-Arab and Iranian ships stopped paying tolls to Iraq when they used the Shatt al-Arab. [14] The Shah argued that the 1937 treaty was unfair to Iran because almost all river borders around the world ran along the thalweg, and because most of the ships that used the Shatt al-Arab were Iranian. [15] Iraq threatened war over the Iranian move, but on 24 April 1969, an Iranian tanker escorted by Iranian warships (Joint Operation Arvand) sailed down the Shatt al-Arab, and Iraq—being the militarily weaker state—did nothing. [13] The Iranian abrogation of the 1937 treaty marked the beginning of a period of acute Iraqi-Iranian tension that was to last until the Algiers Accords of 1975. [13]

All United Nations attempts to intervene and mediate the dispute were rebuffed. Under Saddam Hussein, Baathist Iraq claimed the entire waterway up to the Iranian shore as its territory. In response, Iran in the early 1970s became the main patron of Iraqi Kurdish groups fighting for independence from Iraq. In March 1975, Iraq signed the Algiers Accord in which it recognized a series of straight lines closely approximating the thalweg (deepest channel) of the waterway, as the official border, in exchange for which Iran ended its support of the Iraqi Kurds. [16]

In 1980, Hussein released a statement claiming to abrogate the 1975 treaty and Iraq invaded Iran. International law, however, holds that in all cases no bilateral or multilateral treaty can be abrogated by one party only. The main thrust of the military movement on the ground was across the waterway which was the stage for most of the military battles between the two armies. The waterway was Iraq's only outlet to the Persian Gulf, and thus, its shipping lanes were greatly affected by continuous Iranian attacks. [16]

When the Al-Faw peninsula was captured by the Iranians in 1986, 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. At the end of the Iran–Iraq War, both sides agreed to once again treat the Algiers Accord as binding.


Shatt al-Arab near Basra city, Iraq Basra-Shatt-Al-Arab.jpg
Shatt al-Arab near Basra city, Iraq

Iranian-Iraqi dispute

Conflicting territorial claims and disputes over navigation rights between Iran and Iraq were among the main factors for the Iran–Iraq War that lasted from 1980 to 1988, when the pre-1980 status quo was restored. The Iranian cities of Abadan and Khorramshahr and the Iraqi city and major port of Basra are situated along this river.

2003 invasion of Iraq

In the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the waterway was a key military target for the Coalition 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 operations trying to break the naval blockade against Iraq. The British Royal Marines staged an amphibious assault to capture the key oil installations and shipping docks located at Umm Qasr on the al-Faw peninsula at the onset of the conflict.

Following the end of the war, the UK was given responsibility, subsequently mandated by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1723, to patrol the waterway and the area of the Persian Gulf surrounding the river mouth. They were tasked until 2007 to make sure that ships in the area were not being used to transport munitions into Iraq. British forces also trained Iraqi naval units to take over the responsibility of guarding their waterways after the Coalition Forces left Iraq in December 2011.

On two separate occasions, Iranian forces operating on the Shatt al-Arab have captured British Royal Navy sailors who they claim have trespassed into their territory.

See also

Related Research Articles

Geography of Iraq The Geographic Features of the Republic of Iraq And Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

The geography of Iraq is diverse and falls into five main regions: the desert, Upper Mesopotamia, the northern highlands of Iraq, Lower Mesopotamia, and the alluvial plain extending from around Tikrit to the Persian Gulf.

Tigris River flowing from Turkey through Iraq and Syria

The Tigris is the eastern of the two great rivers that define Mesopotamia, the other being the Euphrates. The river flows south from the mountains of southeastern Turkey through Iraq and empties into the Persian Gulf.

Basra City in Basra Governorate, Iraq

Basra is an Iraqi city located on the Shatt al-Arab. It had an estimated population of 2.5 million in 2012. Basra is also Iraq's main port, although it does not have deep water access, which is handled at the port of Umm Qasr.

Tigris–Euphrates river system River system in the Middle East

The Tigris and Euphrates, with their tributaries, form a major river system in Western Asia. From sources originating in eastern Turkey, they flow by/through Syria through Iraq into the Persian Gulf. The system is part of the Palearctic Tigris–Euphrates ecoregion, which includes Iraq and parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan.

Al-Faw Peninsula

The al-Faw Peninsula is a peninsula in the Persian Gulf, located in the extreme southeast of Iraq. The marshy peninsula is 20 km (12 mi) southeast of Iraq's second largest city, Basra, and is part of a delta for the Shatt al-Arab river, formed by the confluence of the major Euphrates and Tigris rivers. The al-Faw Peninsula borders Iran to the northeast, with the cities of Abadan and Khorramshahr on the opposite side of the Shatt al-Arab, and Kuwait to the southwest, opposite from Bubiyan Island and Warbah Island, near the Iraqi city of Umm Qasr.

Karun river in Iran

The Kārūn is Iran's most effluent and only navigable river. It is 950 km (590 mi) long. It rises in the Zard Kuh mountains of the Bakhtiari district in the Zagros Range, receiving many tributaries, such as the Dez and the Kuhrang, before passing through the capital of the Khuzestan Province of Iran, the city of Ahvaz before emptying to its mouth into Arvand Rud.

1975 Algiers Agreement

The 1975 Algiers Agreement was an agreement between Iran and Iraq to settle their border disputes and conflicts, and it served as basis for the bilateral treaties signed on 13 June and 26 December 1975. The agreement was meant to end the disputes between Iraq and Iran on their borders in Shatt al-Arab and Khuzestan, but the main reason for Iraq was to end the Kurdish rebellion. Less than six years after signing the treaty, on 17 September 1980, Iraq abolished the treaty but under international law, one nation cannot unilaterally reject a previously ratified treaty, and the treaty had no clause providing for abrogation by one nation only.

Iran–Iraq border separates the territories of Iran and Iraq

The Iran–Iraq boundary runs for 1,458 kilometers, from the Shatt al-Arab waterway to the tripoint boundary with Turkey at the Kuh e-Dalanper. Although the boundary was first determined in 1639, certain disputes fester, particularly surrounding navigation on the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

2004 Iranian seizure of Royal Navy personnel

The 2004 Iranian seizure of Royal Navy personnel took place in the Shatt al-Arab waterway on 21 June. Six Royal Marines and two Royal Navy sailors were captured. The British servicemen were seized while training Iraqi river patrol personnel after Iran said they had strayed to the Iranian side of the waterway. They were threatened with legal action initially but released three days later following diplomatic discussions between Jack Straw, then British Foreign Secretary, and Kamal Kharazi, then Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs. The weapons and boats of the British personnel were confiscated and have not been returned.

Operation Fath ol-Mobin

Operation Fath-ol-Mobin was a major Iranian military operation conducted during the Iran–Iraq War, in March 1982. The operation was led by Lt. General Ali Sayad Shirazi, and was conducted in four phases.

Al-Qurnah City in Basra Governorate, Iraq

Al-Qurnah (Qurna) is a city in southern Iraq about 74 km northwest of Basra, within the town of Nahairat. Qurna is located at the confluence point of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to form the Shatt al-Arab. Local folklore holds Qurna to have been the site of the Garden of Eden. An ancient jujube tree is locally celebrated and shown to the tourists as the actual Tree of Knowledge of the Bible.

Arvand may refer to:

Iran–Iraq relations Diplomatic relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Iraq

Iran–Iraq relations extend for millennia into the past. Iran and Iraq share a long border and an ancient cultural and religious heritage. In ancient times Iraq formed part of the core of Persia for about a thousand years.

During the early Islamic centuries, the Daylamite Buwayhid king, Panah Khusraw Adud ad-Dawlah, ordered the digging of a canal to join the Karun River, which at the time emptied independently into the Persian Gulf through the Bahmanshir channel, to the Shatt al-Arab waterway, the joint estuary of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The extra water from the Karun, which, at times during the spring melt, discharged over 27 times the volume of the Tigris-Euphrates water that reaches the Shatt al-Arab) makes the joint estuary more reliably navigable.

The Bahmanshir channel is a secondary estuary of the Karun River that parallels the Arvand Rud/Shatt al-Arab waterway on the far side of the Abadan Island for 70 miles before emptying into the Persian Gulf.

Iraqi invasion of Iran (1980)

The Iraqi invasion of Iran was launched on 22 September and lasted until 7 December 1980. The invasion stalled in the face of Iranian resistance, but not before Iraq captured more than 15,000 km2 of Iran's territory. This invasion led to eight years of war between Iran and Iraq.

Joint Operation Arvand

The Joint Operation Arvand was a show of force operation orchestrated in April 1969 by the Imperial Iranian Armed Forces following Iraqi claim for the sovereign right to Shatt al-Arab/Arvand Rud and threatening to block passage of vessels unless they fly Iraqi flag.

Shatt al-Arab clashes refer to clashes that took place in Shatt al-Arab region from 1936 up to 1980 concordant with Iran–Iraq War. The Shatt al-Arab was considered an important channel for both states' oil exports, and in 1937, Iran and the newly independent Iraq signed a treaty to settle the dispute. In the 1975 Algiers Agreement, Iraq made territorial concessions—including the Shatt al-Arab waterway—in exchange for normalized relations. In return for Iraq recognizing that the frontier on the waterway ran along the entire thalweg, Iran ended its support of Iraq's Kurdish guerrillas.

Emirate of Arabistan

The Emirate of Arabistan was, from the 15th century until 1925, an Arab Principality in what is geographically the lower end of Mesopotamia, today part of the Khuzestan Province in Iran. It was located at the head of the Persian Gulf, bordering the Ottoman Empire to the west and the Zagros Mountains to the east. Although the emirate exercised self-rule for most of its history, imperial control over Arabistan would often vary, though starting from the 16th century most of Arabistan would be part of Safavid Iran until its fall in the 18th century. From 1800-1925, Arabistan would fall mostly within the Persian Empire as an autonomous polity. Before 1847, some regions within Arabistan, such as Abadan and Mohammerah fell within the Ottoman Empire. Eventually, in 1847, the Treaty of Erzurum gave Persia permanent jurisdiction over all of Arabistan, including the port cities of Abadan and Mohammerah. Nevertheless, the Emirate would continue to be self-ruled through hereditary governance.

The 1974–75 Shatt al-Arab clashes refer to Iranian-Iraqi standoff in the Persian Gulf region of Shatt al-Arab waterway during the mid-1970s. The clashes produced nearly 1,000 killed. It was the most significant dispute over the Shatt al-Arab waterway in modern times, prior to the Iran–Iraq War of the 1980s.


  1. "Iraq – Major Geographical Features". Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  2. "Iraq – Major Geographical Features". Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  3. "UNEP/GRID-Sioux Falls". Retrieved 28 November 2015.
  4. 1 2 M. Kasheff, Encyclopædia Iranica : Arvand-Rud. – Retrieved on 18 October 2007.
  5. Al-Hamad; et al. "Geological History of Shatt Al-Arab River, South of Iraq". International Journal of Science and Research. ISSN   2319-7064.
  6. Mikaberidze 2015, p. xxxi.
  7. Dougherty & Ghareeb 2013, p. 681.
  8. Shaw 1991, p. 309.
  9. Marschall, Christin (2003). Iran's Persian Gulf Policy: From Khomeini to Khatami. Routledge. pp. 1–272. ISBN   978-1134429905.
  10. Kia 2017, p. 21.
  11. Potts 2004.
  12. 1 2 Karsh, Efraim The Iran-Iraq War 1980–1988, London: Osprey, 2002 page 7
  13. 1 2 3 Karsh, Efraim The Iran-Iraq War 1980–1988, London: Osprey, 2002 page 8
  14. Karsh, Efraim The Iran-Iraq War 1980–1988, London: Osprey, 2002 pages 7–8
  15. Bulloch, John and Morris, Harvey The Gulf War, London: Methuen, 1989 page 37.
  16. 1 2 Abadan Archived 2009-08-08 at the Wayback Machine , Sajed, Retrieved on March 16, 2009.


Coordinates: 30°24′26″N48°09′06″E / 30.40722°N 48.15167°E / 30.40722; 48.15167