ERBIL, Iraq (Dispatches) - President Tayyip Erdogan has agreed to increase releases of water from a dam in southeastern Turkey to neighboring Iraq, which is struggling with a water crisis, the speaker of the Iraqi parliament said on Wednesday.
Turkey is holding back water on the Tigris river to fill a reservoir behind its Ilisu dam, a step that has alarmed Iraq and caused shortages particularly in the southern province of Basra.
Speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi, who met Erdogan in Turkey on Tuesday, said the president had agreed to an Iraqi request for more supplies. This was "in order to guarantee water reaches all of Iraq’s provinces, especially Basra”, Halbousi said in a statement.
Turkey temporarily stopped filling the reservoir in June but agreed with Iraq to resume doing so in July. Around 70 percent of Iraq’s water supplies flow from neighboring countries, especially in the Tigris and Euphrates which run through Turkey.
Iraq’s water shortages have led it to take measures such as bans on rice planting, and driven farmers to leave their land. Basra province has seen months of street protests over the lack of clean drinking water.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is due in Baghdad on Thursday.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in June that Iraq was surprised by Turkey’s decision to start holding back water behind its Ilisu dam earlier than promised, suggesting it was done to win support for the government in upcoming elections.
The next war in the Middle East could be fought over water as Iraq, Syria and Turkey scramble to assert claims to two vital rivers that run through the region, according to a new report.
Nabil al-Samman, a Syrian expert on international waters, made the case for an upcoming "water war" in an article published by Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
The article defines the term as being used to refer in the Mediterranean to "the use of water as a weapon in order to control its sources, or the diversion of water as a commercial commodity controlled by powerful upstream states for political ends."
The piece outlines a decades-long history of difficult relations and devastating conflicts that have set the stage for a potential upcoming crisis between Syria, Iraq and Turkey.
"When the sounds of guns and war drums fade in Syria and Iraq, new tensions may arise because of water, especially in their conflict with Turkey, from which the Euphrates and Tigris rivers flow," the report read.