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.
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).
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.
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%).
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
No conservation measures are known to have been taken. The establishment of farms in the area has involved considerable damage to topsoil by vehicles, and a road was built through the site from Tikrit to the lake. There is hunting, and the lake is threatened by overfishing. No conservation measures are known to have been proposed.
Agricultural threats were considered very high. There are many wheat and corn fields along the way to the site, mainly restricted to Al-Dhebaeji on the Salah-Ad-Din side and Al-Geraeshi on the Anbar side. Center pivot irrigation was observed especially on the Salah-Ad-Din side of the lake. The main fish landing sites for the local markets of Tikrit are located at Ein Al-Faras on the Salah-Ad-Din side of the lake and near the former presidential complex at Al-Tharthar on the Anbar side. In both locations many fishermen were present, generally using legal fishing nets (neither small mesh-size nets or electro-fishing are allowed) but fishing was still considered a very high threat. The lake is deep, reaching nearly 80 m at some points, which renders illegal fishing procedures such as electro-fishing largely useless. Other human impacts appear relatively minimal, particularly given the lake’s size. Even so, over-fishing remains a threat that may become more severe in the future.
Habitat and land use
The landscape includes gravel hillsides covered in grass near the lake and a number of flat, sandy near-islands attached to the lake shore extending out into the middle of the lake distinguish this site from west Al-Tharthar. The wide areas of open, arid steppe and cultivated areas of wheat and corn near the Al-Debe’e steppes harbor scattered halophytic vegetation and are considered one of the most important grazing areas in Iraq as a whole. While these are invaluable for cattle, they are also considered the main wintering grounds for many threatened species of migrant birds and mammals such as Saker Falcon Falco cherrug, Houbara or McQueen's Bustard Chlamydotis macqueenii, and Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius; Arabian Oryx Oryx leucoryx also occurred formerly. This habitat dominates the landscape of the north and northeast rib of Al Tharthar Lake. Poor security conditions did not allow the field team to cover most of the targeted area during the winter 2009 visit
Data-sheet compiled by Dr Khalid Y. Al-Dabbagh.
BirdLife International (2022) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Tharthar Lake and Al-Dhebaeji Fields. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 30/06/2022.