Wednesday, April 1, 2009

BAGHDAD (AP) - An Iraqi minister blamed Iran and Turkey as well as a dry winter for the country’s growing water shortage and urged its neighbors on Wednesday to share more water with Baghdad.

Water Resources Minister Abdul-Latif Jamal Rasheed said both countries had built a large number of dams and reservoirs on the tributaries of Iraq’s two main rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates.

He said Iraq was seeking a “sufficient and fair share of water” from the rivers _ the largely desert country’s two main water resources _ through water-sharing agreements with Ankara and Tehran.

“We have been asking them to sign such agreements, but the other sides are not ready,” Rasheed said. He refused to say whether the two countries’ water policies were politically motivated.

“We have an ongoing coordination with Turkey … and it has released convincing quantities recently,” he told a Baghdad press conference. “But we have not held any meeting with Iran despite sending at least one or two letters each month to start meetings.”

The general director of the ministry’s water resources center, Aoun Thiab Abdullah, said the Iraqis have asked neighboring countries to double the flow into the two rivers.

Iranian and Turkish authorities were not immediately available to comment. Last month, Turkish President Abdullah Gul promised during a visit to Baghdad to increase the amount of water released into the Tigris as it flows through Turkey.

Water shortages are likely to affect Iraq’s electricity availability because low water levels mean the country’s hydroelectric dams cannot run at full capacity. The drought will also cut into crop production, forcing the country to import more foodstuffs.

Rasheed also said that the levels of water in Iraq’s marshes have decreased to between 40 percent and 50 percent of what they reached soon after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In retaliation for a failed Shiite uprising in the south in 1991, Saddam diverted the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to dry up the marshes. That turned the area into a desert and forced hundreds of thousands of inhabitants to move.

Since 2003, efforts to restore the marshes have gradually revived the area, and former residents began returning. Last month, the Iraqi government and U.N. agencies launched a $47 million plan to restore the marshes.

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