Tharthar Lake and Al-Dhebaeji Fields

Country/territory: Iraq

IBA criteria met: A1, A3 (2014)
For more information about IBA criteria, please click here

Area: 340,573 ha

Nature Iraq
IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) Threat (pressure) Condition (state) Action (response)
2013 high not assessed negligible
For more information about IBA monitoring, please click here

Site description (baseline)
Lying between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, 120 km north of Baghdad in north-central Iraq, the site comprises c.80,000 ha of the north-eastern part of Lake Tharthar (Mileh Tharthar, c.230,000 ha) plus a large adjacent area of semi-desert to the east (c.375,000 ha). The lake is deep and nutrient-poor. The site's northern edge runs just south of the Baiji-Haditha road, and the eastern edge is 10 km from Samara, Tikrit and Baiji. The soil is calcareous with a rather uniform surface: a pavement of small sandy stones in the south and central parts, and mainly sandy in the north (near Baiji). Low hills rise near Lake Tharthar, these being covered with larger stones. A few shallow wadis cross the area, running towards the lake, and the area has a rich supply of underground water. Vegetation is sparse, and mainly small shrubs (Haloxylon, Achillea, Artemisia, Rhanterium), though there are patches of denser growth, particularly in depressions, and scattered small Ziziphus trees. After the light December-February rains, most of the area develops a thin cover of grasses and annuals. Using water from tube-wells, the area has been farmed since c.1980, and there are now at least 150-200 farms of c.10 ha each, mostly in the south and east of the site. There is some sheep grazing. A strip of land c.20 km wide along the lake shore is not exploited because of the unsuitable soils. Lake Tharthar is connected to the Tigris by an inlet canal via the Samara Dam, and is used for water storage and flood-relief; an outlet canal feeds back into the Tigris further downstream, and a branch from this canal reaches south to feed into the Euphrates as well. 2014 updates. This area near the northern part of Tharthar valley extends to the west of Salah-Ad-Din and to the east of Anbar. It was list by Evans (1994) as an IBA site (IBA007). The habitats of that were surveyed in this area included periodically flooded lands, reedbeds, rooted submerged vegetation as well as desert shrublands. The geology of the area is Lower Faris Series (marls, siltstones, gypsum/anhydrates, and limestone bands) and Euphrates limestone (shelly dolomitized limestones).

Key biodiversity
See box for key species. Large numbers of waterbirds are present in winter; other winter visitors or passage migrants include Charadrius asiaticus (up to 60 on passage) and Pterocles alchata (max. 1,000). Other breeding species include Cursorius cursor (20 pairs), Vanellus indicus (20 pairs), V. leucurus (4 pairs), Bubo bubo (1 pair) and Pycnonotus leucotis; Oenanthe isabellina probably breeds. Lake Tharthar was listed as a wetland of international importance by Carp (1980).

Non-bird biodiversity: Mammals: Canis lupus (V) and Gazella subgutturosa (rare). Reptiles: Varanus griseus (rare). Flora: the general area is very important for harbouring wild relatives of important cereal crop species.

2014 updates. Additional Important Bird Observations: During the surveys, 54 bird species were seen. In addition to those listed in the table above Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus, European Roller Coracias garrulus, and Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa (all Near Threatened) were recorded on passage and the endemic race of Hooded Crow Corvus cornix capellanus was present. Other Important Fauna: Golden Jackal Canis aureus was observed regularly. Striped Hyaena Hyaena hyaena was reported by locals and Caracal Caracal caracal was reported killed by local hunters near the lake edge. The Turkish Gecko Hemidactylus turcicus and Egyptian Spiny-tailed Lizard Uromastyx aegyptia were also observed. Fish: Data were collected only in the winter of 2009 using a fisheries farm survey methodology, during which 10 species were observed. During the survey, fish caught in Tharthar tended to indicate good growth with some of the largest fish recorded for Iraq for that year. Fishing was by nets with mesh size of approximately 2 to 10 cm and a daily catch of about 30 kg/boat-day. About 100 boats were observed during this survey. These important species (listed with their catch ratios) were: Leuciscus vorax (15%), Carassius auratus (3%), Carasobarbus luteus (12%), Cyprinus carpio (15%), Cyprinion kais (3%), Liza abu (12%), and Luciobarbus xanthopterus (31%), and Mesopotamichthys sharpeyi (3%), as well as Chondrostoma regium (3%) and Silurus triostegus (3%).

Data-sheet compiled by Dr Khalid Y. Al-Dabbagh.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Tharthar Lake and Al-Dhebaeji Fields. Downloaded from on 04/06/2023.