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Iraq Asks Turkey To Release More River Water

The Euphrates River in Hindiya, Iraq
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq has called on Turkey to release more water down the Euphrates river, saying the country's farms and drinking water supplies were at stake.

Turkish authorities told a visiting Iraqi lawmaker last month they had boosted the flow of the Euphrates through Turkish dams upstream of Iraq to help farmers cope with drought.

But Iraq's Water Resources Minister Abdul Latif Rasheed told Turkey on June 7 that nothing had been done, his ministry said.

"The minister asked that the flow of water be increased by 500 cubic meters per second," it said in a statement.

Iraq is mostly desert. Its inhabitable areas are fed by the Tigris from Turkey, the Euphrates from Turkey and Syria, and a network of smaller rivers from Iran.

Iraq accuses Turkey, and to a lesser extent Syria, of choking the Euphrates with hydroelectric dams that have restricted the flow, damaging the farm sector already suffering from decades of war, sanctions, and neglect.

The dispute is a delicate diplomatic issue for Iraq as it seeks to improve ties with its neighbors. Turkey is one of Iraq's most important trading partners.

"We are passing through an emergency and the country is threatened with an environmental and humanitarian catastrophe," said Karim al-Yaqubi, a member of a parliamentary committee that oversees water issues.

He said water purification plants in parts of the country like the province of Diwaniya, southeast of Baghdad, could not pump in water because it was too muddy.

Yaqubi said Turkey had briefly increased the river flow to serve its hydroelectric operations, but had then closed the sluice gates.

Farmers faced with the start of the planting season between the Tigris and Euphrates south of Baghdad were in dire trouble because they did not have enough water for irrigation, he added.

A drought has already withered crops.

On June 6, farmers and fishermen demonstrated in the city of Najaf, waving leaflets that called on the government to demand Iraq's neighbors release more water.

"We haven't planted anything yet so as not to get into any trouble," said Ali al-Ghazali, 45, watching relatives weed the bone-dry earth of his farm south of Najaf where he usually plants rice.

"We pay for our seeds at the time of the harvests, and if we fail to harvest or the harvest has been ruined, the person who sold us the seeds still wants his money. So all the farmers have stopped planting and now head to the city for work to earn their daily living until the water comes back."

Turkey had been expected to add 130 cubic meters per second of water to the flow down the Euphrates, taking the total flow to Iraq up to 360 cubic meters per second from 230 cubic meters per second, officials said.