Iraq calls for water treaty to avert crisis
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Iraq on Thursday called for a water treaty with neighbors that share the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, saying a deal was needed to avoid a crisis.
The two great rivers converge in Iraq and are its main water resource. Both flow south from Turkey, the Euphrates first winding through Syria while the Tigris passes straight into northern Iraq.
"The problem is growing and we need an agreement. There is speculation that the next regional war will be about water, but more conflict does not achieve anything," Water Resources Minister Abdul Latif Rasheed told Reuters in the Syrian capital.
"Iraq could fall into crisis, especially if we don't have more information from our neighbors and an idea of the state of their projects and if we end up without a fair share of the water," he said.
Rasheed said the looming danger came from Turkey, which has been damming the Euphrates and is expected to add the most land under cultivation, further worsening water quality downstream.
"I hope that the water issue does not fall prey to politics. Our river levels have plummeted and Iraq needs guarantees that projects Turkey is building won't hit us further," Rasheed said after talks with Syrian officials.
Euphrates volumes through Iraq have fallen to 30 billion cubic meters a year, half the flow of a few decades ago before Syria and Turkey increased dam building, Rasheed said.
"The picture on the Tigris is slightly better, although Iran is blocking its tributaries and we need to talk about this with Tehran. We have cooperation from Syria," said Rasheed, a Kurd who was a leading member of the opposition to Saddam Hussein.
Rasheed said talks with Turkey have picked up after the U.S.-led invasion that removed Saddam from power in 2003. But Iraq still lacked information on the scope of Turkish plans upstream and the expansion of cultivated land.
Tension rose recently between Turkey and Iraq over Kurdish separatists operating from Iraqi Kurdistan.
"We're meeting with Turkey over water at all levels, but we need more information and detail. Ideally they should seek our approval for some of their projects," Rasheed said.
Water resources have long been the centre of disputes between Turkey and the downstream countries, especially after the completion of the Ataturk dam in the 1990s.
Turkey said then its neighbors had no right to question what Ankara did with rivers rising within its borders but that it would not use its control of the Tigris and Euphrates as a weapon against Syria and Iraq.