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Iraq, Turkey Foreign Ministers Commit To Water Talks

Baghdad, Iraq

Turkey Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is in Iraq this week to meet his Iraqi counterpart, Mohamed Alhakim, with water resources, border security and trade on the agenda.

A two-day visit commenced in Baghadad April 28, and is set to include stops in the autonomous Kurdish region and Basra, Iraq's main oil hub, where residents have faced severe water-related challenges.

Cavusoglu announced in Baghdad that Turkey would send a special representative to Iraq to discuss water resources after an exceptionally wet winter filled reservoirs and caused flooding in both countries.

The two countries have been embroiled in a dispute over water resources as Turkey has been accused of threatening to stop flow from the Tigris River into Iraq in order to fill its Ilisu Dam.

The Foreign Ministers discussed the regional water crisis and the formation of joint committees to solve the water problem and to exchange expertise.

AlHakim said at a joint press conference April 28 that "Last year, there was a huge water crisis and problem. But this year was the year of compassion and blessings. This year we instead have the problem of flooding”.

Cavusoglu said that Turkey would address the water problem with Iraq "so we do not face any potential drought crisis in the future."

Reduced water flow to southern Iraq last summer led to rivers drying and increased saline intrusion in the Shatt al-Arab river, which is exacerbated by pollutants. Salty water has sent more than 110,000 people to hospital in the Basra last year.

Since the summer 2018 health crisis there have been regular, continuing street protests in Basra, with demonstrators demanding better public services, clean water, regular electricity supply, employment, and an end to corruption in Iraqi government institutions.

Basra’s freshwater canals are clogged with garbage and sewage, a situation blamed on a combination of a lack of rainfall but also construction of upstream dams in Turkey, as well as Syria, and Iran. Poor water management by the Iraq government has also been blamed for saltwater intrusion from the Persian Gulf which has destroyed farmland, killing fish and livestock.

Demonstrators in Basra have demanded improved public utilities, especially water and electricity; more job opportunities; and an end to perceived government corruption. Protesters set fire to government building in the summer unrest and torched most political party offices as well as, in September 2018, the Iranian consulate. At least a dozen protesters were killed in the security response.