Iraq parliament demands more water from neighbours

Tue May 12, 2009 10:28am EDT

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By Waleed Ibrahim

BAGHDAD, May 12 (Reuters) - Iraq's parliament voted on Tuesday to compel the government to demand on a greater share of water resources from neighbours upstream of its vital rivers, Turkey, Iran and Syria, in any bilateral deals with them.

In a resolution, Iraqi lawmakers agreed to block any treaty or agreement signed with the three nations that does not include a clause granting Iraq a fairer share of water resources.

The resolution's passage is likely to turn up the heat on a long-running dispute between Iraq and the neighbouring states, whose mountains feed the arid nation's rivers.

Iraq is mostly desert and its inhabitable areas are slaked by the Tigris, which comes down from Turkey, the Euphrates, from Syria, and a network of smaller rivers from Iran.

Iraq accuses Turkey and Syria of choking the Tigris and Euphrates by placing a hydroelectric dams on them that have restricted water flow, damaging an Iraqi agricultural sector already hit hard by decades of war, sanctions and neglect.

"Iraqi parliament voted today to compel the government to include an article in any agreement signed with neighbours to ensure Iraq gets a fair share of water. If it does not, it will not be voted on," Karim al-Yaqubi, a member of the parliamentary committee for water, told Reuters at parliament.

The dispute is a delicate diplomatic issue for Iraq, which is only now repairing ties with Iran and Syria after Saddam's rule cut them off and which has been accused by Turkey of not doing enough to stop Kurdish separatists using Iraq as a base.

In the past year, ties with Turkey have warmed. Last year, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited Iraq and President Abdullah Gul followed this year, in March.

A bilateral trade deal between Turkey and Iraq signed then has not yet been discussed in parliament, lawmakers say.

"Iraq currently is receiving water from these countries according to their whims ... Iraqis are facing a water catastrophe if this issue is not resolved soon," Yaqubi said.

Turkey is one of Iraq's most important trading partners, with Turkish firms and products dominating northern Iraq's economy. Turkish construction firms have billions of dollars of contracts in Iraq.

Some 400,000 barrels of Iraqi oil a day -- more than a fifth of its exports -- are piped through the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

"These countries need Iraq as a market for their commodities as well as Iraqi oil. What Iraq needs from these countries is water ... so it is a matter of mutual interest," said parliamentarian Rasheed al-Azzawi. (Writing by Tim Cocks)



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