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With the U.S. Navy in Iraq

Euphrates below Haditha Dam

There is something joyful and appealing about water, especially when you live in a desert.  I had the great fun on one of  the USN boats that patrols Lake Qadisiya above the Haditha dam.  The Navy patrols the Euphrates River and its reservoirs.  This allows us to catch bad guys trying to cross the river or hide supplies on the islands.  It is kind of funny to find the Navy this far inland and in a desert, but I guess water is water.

Coalition forces from Azerbaijan guard the dam, along with the USMC.  This is appropriate, as I understand Azeris were among those who originally helped build the dam.   It was built about thirty years ago and not maintained very well, so it needs lots of work.  It was built primarily for irrigation, but it also generates power.  I will not vouch for the exact figures and I am not good at technical things, but I understand the power plant currently produces around 440 mw.  This was enough to power most of Anbar and give some to Baghdad.  But now people have bought a lot of electronic devices like computers or durables like washers and refrigerators, so demand for electricity is rising.  The dam could produce 660 mw if all the equipment was updated & working and the reservoir was full.  Watching the water spill over is very pretty, but a lot of energy can go down the river.  One expert says that in an eight hour period he had watched enough water “over the dam” to make the energy equivalent of 33 tanker trucks each holding 5000 gallons of diesel.  I am not sure how he figured it out, but he was an expert.

Water levels are currently low, but that will soon change when winter rain and snow falls upstream and dams in Turkey and Syria release water to send it flowing down the Euphrates.  Low water creates problems for the Navy since weeds and rocks that they could normally sail over are near or above the surface.  Since I was not driving the boat, I was happy with the lower water levels, since they revealed more of the landscape.  What surprises me is how LITTLE grows along the lake shore.  My guess is that the shore of the expanding lake extended into the rocky desert and there is not enough soil to support plants, but I really do not know.  I noticed the same thing along Lake Mead in back of Hoover Dam, which seems to have a similar climate and disposition.  on the other hand, along the river below the dam it is green (as you see in the first picture), which lends credence to the soil theory.

Back boat

The boats can go pretty fast and ours did, as you might guess from the picture.  I got a good seat near the back, hung on and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of having the water spray past me.  The back of the boat was below the surface, but the wake formed a depression around us.  I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing flowing water.  The best time was when we crossed the wake of the other boat and really bounced.  The water of the Euphrates and the water of the lake is a beautiful aquamarine color and very clear.  You can see fish swimming around below.  The Marines landed on one of the islands, actually more of a peninsula with the low water, took the high ground and checked things out.  Nobody was there.  I stayed on the boat.  Civilians have to be safe.  Actually, I think I just did not get up fast enough, although they clearly didn’t need me, and my boat pulled away to let the other one land troops before I knew it.  After a little while, we picked everybody up and headed back to the shore.

Island in iraq

As I looked toward the dam, I noticed something strange in the sky – clouds.  I had not seen significant cloud cover since I arrived in Iraq.  The clouds were back again today in Al Asad.  Those who know tell me that they are the harbingers of winter when we will get some rain and cool weather.  When I said that I looked forward to it, they told me that I would change my mind when I saw and felt the mud.  I figure it is better to be too cold than too hot.  Right now the weather is perfect and I will enjoy it while I can.

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That is interesting. I had always assumed the Euphrates would be a muddy brown- you know, a river filled with the refuge of a thousand civilizations.

John, do you know if there are any plans to get the repair of the dam underway? I had read a NYT peice about the street lights flicker on in Bagdahd for the first time since 2004. It would be shame to see them shut off again for lack of electricity.

Okay. Now it sounds like you're having just too good a time over there. I'm jealous. I like boats, too!


The Euphrates is surprising. In Anbar, it is clean,full of fish and fast flowing.

The dam is being fixed all the time now. Such things need constant attention. Saddam didn't fix things and that is why so many things do not work. Actual war damage is not the biggest problem. BTW, people have electricity and there are many generators supplying villages or businesses. There is a persistent problem with electricity from the grid because demand is growing (as people buy things like computers and appliances) AND electricty from the grid is FREE. That is really dumb idea than ensures waste, but it will be hard to change.


Yes, it was fun. It is not as bad around here as people think, not all the time. Of course, my experience after the war is mostly over is very different from those who were here for the actualy fighting. That little island, for example, could have been hot and the boat trip less pleasant as a result.

In general conditions are not that bad. The big downside is that movements are restricted. Humvees and helicopters are less fun than those boats.

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