May 12, 2009 / 6:23 PM / 8 years ago

Iraq parliament demands more water from neighbours

(adds water director comments, background, edits)

By Waleed Ibrahim and Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD, May 12 (Reuters) - Iraq’s parliament voted on Tuesday to force 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 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, also from Turkey but passing through Syria, and a network of smaller rivers from Iran, some of which feed the Tigris.

Iraq accuses Turkey, and to a lesser extent Syria, of choking the Euphrates by placing a hydroelectric dams on it that have restricted water flow, damaging an Iraqi agricultural sector already hit 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 Hussein’s rule, and which has been accused by Turkey of not doing enough to stop Kurdish rebels 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.

Turkey is one of Iraq’s most important trading partners, with Turkish firms dominating northern Iraq’s economy. Turkish construction firms own 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.

Addressing journalists on Tuesday, Iraq’s water resources director Oun Thiab Abdullah said the Euphrates river had fallen 35 percent since January, owing to overuse by neighbours.

"There will be a catastrophe this summer if they keep (providing us) with such an amount," he said.

Farmers will be unable to plant rice along the Euphrates’ banks this summer, Abdullah said.

Iraq’s water storage facilities were running dry, he said, thanks to a combination of drought and dams, steadily decreasing their reserves to 13 billion cubic metres in 2009, from 40 billion cubic metres in 2006. (Writing by Tim Cocks)



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