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Interview: Iraqi Water Resources Minister Talks To RFE/RL

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) interviewed Iraqi Water Resources Minister Dr. Abd al-Latif Rashid on 12 August. Rashid was in Prague on the invitation of the Czech government to discuss technical cooperation on a number of proposed projects. (Interview by Falah Mousa. English translation by Petr Kubalek.)

RFI: Mr. Minister, the visit of the official Iraqi delegation in the Czech Republic ends tomorrow. You and the delegation that accompanied you have conducted a number of talks with several officials of the Czech government. How do you assess the results of your visit to the Czech Republic?

Rashid: First, I would like to express my pleasure and my positive feeling about this visit. We have had relations with the Czech government, the Czech cabinet, and the Czech people for a long time. Besides that, we should not forget the attitude of the Czech people and the Czech government in support of the Iraqi people. They have supported us in heading toward our goals of democracy, human rights, and federalism. Even when we were in opposition, they were supportive of the ambitions of the Iraqi people. Now, of course, they have shown an active interest in Iraq as far as the sectors of politics, economics, and reconstruction are concerned.

The aim of our visit is an exchange of know-how for developing and encouraging the technological and economic sectors. We have also spoken about the recruitment of technical specialists from Czech companies who could take part in the development of Iraq. As you know, yesterday we visited [Czech President Vaclav Klaus]. We also went to the Foreign Ministry. Today, we have conducted a series of talks with the industry and trade minister [Milan Urban], the environment minister [Libor Ambrozek], and the agriculture minister [Jaroslav Palas]. Today, the last meeting came with the finance minister [Bohuslav Sobotka]. We focused on the support that the Czech cabinet can provide for the Iraqi people from all aspects, especially in development [activities].

We also need to make use of the experience that the Czech government and the Czech people have. As you know, they too went through a period of transition to democracy, after the dictatorship had fallen. They went through a political period that can be compared to the current period in Iraq. We would like to make use of their experience, and they are completely ready [to help us]. Today, they welcomed our proposals regarding [the establishment of] a top-level committee, composed of a number of ministers and officials, who would visit Iraq in order to participate in the development of Iraq, because there are, as you know, assets earmarked from the donor countries to encourage the development in Iraq.

RFI: Yes. Mr. Minister, going back to the issues of Iraq, there is the question of supplying potable water in Iraq. A number of regions in Iraq were, during the era of the overthrown regime, suffering from problems in the distribution of water and especially drinking water. What is the current situation? What has your ministry presented in this field?

Rashid: As you know, Iraq was afflicted by all kinds of problems. Apart from the political, military, and social problems, there were naturally the problems of development.

I believe that all facilities, from [those concerned with] drinking water to service and cleaning plants, were being neglected for a very long time. The reason was not only the war. I am convinced that it was being done intentionally by the previous government.

All parts of Iraq need better services: regarding drinking water, cleaning waste water, or [irrigation] canals, but also [other areas such as] agriculture or education. Regarding drinking water, there is now [a sufficient] quantity of drinking water in Iraq. We have, for instance, several huge dams. But the way of distributing water from the dams to households is insufficient.

In the budget of the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works as well as in [the budgets of] other ministries, there are assets for the distribution of drinking water to nearly all parts of Iraq. This, of course, needs some planning, studies, and consequently investment before it is realized. This point of the distribution of drinking water is, I believe, an integral part of the government planning. We are going to do our best in implementing larger [water] service projects to the Iraqi people within the closest future.

RFI: God willing. Also, the issue of the marshes is a sensitive problem for Iraq. Recently, the UN Water Program released a project on adaptation and revitalization of the region. There must certainly be some coordination with the [Iraqi] ministries of Water Resources and of Environment. What have you done in this area?

Rashid: As is known, drying the marshes and their desertification was a political-military decision, not a developmental or environmental one. When I became the minister and started to work, some 95 percent of the area of the marshes was dried out.

It was clear what to do: from the very beginning, we -- as the Ministry of Water Resources -- have to return life into the marshes region. Development of the marshes region is among the priorities of our ministry.

We got down to it and now, at the present time, something between 35 and 40 percent of the marshes already has water. We are working hard on continuing the development in the marshes and reviving them. At our ministry, we have formed a special department called the Marshes Revitalization Center. A number of experts on various subjects -- hydrology, construction of canals and water facilities, environment, health, water analysis -- have been working toward the implementation, or the progress, of the marshes' revitalization. We have been doing further steps there.

We have also been receiving [financial] support from abroad. There is an international interest in the revitalization of the marshes. Our ministry is the primary coordinator in the process of returning life to the marshes. We have been seriously dedicated to this goal and we have had a clear plan for the development -- and not only returning to life -- of the entire marshes region. The marshes region needs all services you could think of: health care, water supplies, education, and culture -- there is a need for all this in the marshes region.

I have personally visited the region three times. My dedication to the issue is strong. God willing, we will do our best so that the region is provided with [the results of] development in shortest time possible.

RFI: Mr. Minister, not only the marshes and the distribution of water but also water in Iraq, generally, and its supplying for drinking or for irrigation are linked to Iraq's relations with neighboring countries and to the attitudes of those countries. Three countries share the water of both [the Euphrates and the Tigris] rivers, and certainly a number of agreements have been reached on the issue. There is a tripartite committee with members from Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. A lot has to be done on this. What are your plans regarding agreements with the countries who also use water from the [Euphrates and the Tigris] rivers?

Rashid: The quantity of water in the stream bed of the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers depends on cooperation from the neighboring countries. All principal resources in Iraq come [to its territory] from Turkey. There are some tributaries of the Tigris River that flow from Iran but the substantial quantity, or the main resources for water, in the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers is from Turkey.

Of course, the Euphrates River passes [through the territory] of Syria and then enters Iraq. The quantity of water in the water bed of the Euphrates is currently much less than it used to be. What is the reason? The consumption of water in Turkey and Syria for agriculture as well as the containment of water in the dams in both countries.

We are indeed willing to cooperate in order to reach a fair solution, a complex international solution for all the nations of the region. It is planned that I will pay a visit to Turkey where we will, God willing, discuss the matter. Not only from the angle of dividing the share of water but also from the angle of cooperation in the exchange of information about rainfalls and the quantity of water in the rivers in Iraq; the quantity of water in the dams in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. We need constant cooperation on a daily basis to effectively direct and preserve the masses of water in good quality and in quantities fairly divided among the [three] countries.

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