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Iraq Says Turkey Reneging On Pledge To Boost Water Supplies

ANKARA (Reuters) -- Turkey has failed to meet a pledge to release more water down the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to Iraq, an Iraqi minister has said, and called for a coordinated water policy in the region.

In June, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said Ankara will guarantee a minimum 400 cubic meters of water per second from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to help its neighbor weather a drought.

But Iraqi Water Resources Minister Abdul Latif Rashid told Reuters that Iraq was still not getting enough water from Turkey, and said his country's agriculture and drinking-water supplies were at stake.

"It isn't happening and we want Turkey to implement that agreement. The amount of water we are getting is fluctuating," Rashid said on the sidelines of a meeting between Turkish, Iraqi, and Syrian ministers to discuss water sharing from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

"The minimum requirement Iraq needs is 600 cubic meters. Sometimes it fluctuates to less than 200 cubic meters. We need two or three times that amount," he said.

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.

Turkish officials say flows to Iraq have been decreased by Syria, which also shares the Tigris and Euphrates basin.

But Rashid said Iraq was getting less water since Turkey began building dams in the southeast of the country under the GAP development project.

'Fair Share'

Rashid, who said he had brought up the issue with his Turkish counterpart on September 3, said the region needed to draft a coordinated water policy to cope with the drought.

"We all need to get a fair share. Iraq is a downstream country. Our drinking-water supplies, agriculture, and electricity depends on how the water resources are managed upstream. We need to manage water properly and come to agreements."

Iraq, which is mostly desert, is in its third year of a drought that has harmed crop yields and reservoir levels.

Turkey says it has occasionally limited the flow on the Tigris and Euphrates to less than 400 cubic meters per second to meet its own needs during extremely dry weather.

Syria's Irrigation Minister Nadir al-Bunni said his country was "concerned" about the amount of water that flows out of Turkey and said neighbors sharing the Euphrates and Tigris rivers needed to find a solution that is "sustainable from a social and humanitarian point of view."

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to abandon their land in Syria, a major farm-commodities producer in the region, due to the effects of the country's worst drought in decades.