The Shatt al-Arab (Arabic: شط العرب, literally Coast/Beach of the Arabs), or the Arvand Rūd (Persian: اروندرود, literally Arvand River), is a river in Southwest Asia 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.
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.
In Middle Persian literature and the Shahnama, the name Arvand is used for the Tigris, the confluent of the Shatt al-Arab. Iranians begun using 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.
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.
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 Erzurum between the two parties, 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, but World War I canceled all plans.
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