Washington International Law Journal


Nadim Damluji


After years of turmoil, the volatile situation in Iraq and Syria erupted into chaos, setting the stage for the rise of Daesh. Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi since 2013, Daesh has successfully gained control of territory and influence throughout vast regions of Iraq and Syria to create a new religious caliphate. In the water-scarce region, Daesh has executed a plan to capture the most precious resource available: water. The critical threat Daesh poses to watercourse installations along the Tigris and Euphrates in Syria and Iraq poses a pressing challenge to water security in the Middle East. How might state actors hold Daesh accountable for their control, depletion, and weaponization of the public resource of water? In the midst of multi-ethnic sectarian conflicts, what national laws in Iraq and Syria create obligations for a coordinated federal response to protect their watercourses? What duties does an Armed Non-State Actor owe within a positivist international legal system? Do those duties change when that actor draws new borders for a new self-proclaimed “state” made up of transnational sovereign territory? This note will examine the legal implications that are triggered by Daesh control over watercourses throughout Iraq and Syria. Part I contextualizes the threat Daesh poses to watercourses in Iraq and Syria as well as what type of legal personhood they possess. Part II examines the legal obligations of state actors under domestic, Islamic, and international law with respect to Daesh control of water installations in Iraq and Syria. After establishing the legal basis, Part III analyzes the extent to which Daesh, as an Armed Non-State Actor, can be legally bound under the same sources of law. Part IV applies the sources of law identified in Parts II and III to two case studies of Daesh control and explores mechanisms for enforcing these theories of accountability.

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