IRAQ OPENED its Third River, a vast drainage canal flowing midway between the Euphrates and the Tigris, in early December. The 565-km-long main canal, which took 40 years to complete because of revolutions, wars and sanctions, will reclaim 1.5 million ha of Iraq's agricultural land (of which 300,000 ha have already been reclaimed) that have become barren due to salination. The canal crosses the Euphrates by tunnel at Nasiriyah. At its southern end, its highly saline waters are discharged into the northern, drainage portion of the Basra river, another human-made channel running parallel to and meant as a replacement for the blocked Shatt-al-Arab.
After the Gulf war, it was alleged that the main purpose of the canal was to drain large portions of the southern marshes, inhabited by Shia-Muslim dissidents. Iraq, however, denied this vehemently. There is also speculation that Iraq plans to dry these marshes for beneath them lie large and proven oil fields.
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