The Tigris has long been an important transport route in a largely desert country. Shallow-draft vessels can go as far as Baghdad, but rafts are needed for transport upstream to Mosul.
General Francis Rawdon Chesney hauled two steamers overland through Syria in 1836 to explore the possibility of an overland and river route to India. One steamer, the Tigris, was wrecked in a storm which sank and killed twenty. Chesney proved the river navigable to powered craft. Later, the Euphrates and Tigris Steam Navigation Company was established in 1861 by the Lynch Brothers trading company. They had 2 steamers in service. By 1908 ten steamers were on the river. Tourists boarded steam yachts to venture inland as this was the first age of archaeological tourism, and the sites of Ur and Ctesiphon became popular with European travelers.
In the First World War, during the British conquest of Ottoman Mesopotamia, Indian and Thames River paddlers were used to supply General Charles Townsend's army, in the Siege of Kut and the Fall of Baghdad (1917). The Tigris Flotilla included vessels Clio, Espiegle, Lawrence, Odin, armed tug Comet, armed launches Lewis Pelly, Miner, Shaitan, Sumana, and sternwheelers Muzaffari/Muzaffar. These were joined by Royal Navy Fly-class gunboats Butterfly, Cranefly, Dragonfly, Mayfly, Sawfly, Snakefly, and Mantis, Moth, and Tarantula.
After the war, river trade declined in importance during the 20th century as the Basra-Baghdad-Mosul railway, an unfinished portion of the Baghdad Railway, was completed and roads took over much of the freight traffic.