Water key issue in Kadhimi’s forthcoming visit to Turkey

A protocol to be signed between Baghdad and Ankara will guarantee Iraq a constant water quota per month from the Tigris River.
Wednesday 16/12/2020
Mahdi Rashid al-Hamdani, Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources, speaks  in the capital Baghdad, last August. (AFP)
Mahdi Rashid al-Hamdani, Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources, speaks in the capital Baghdad, last August. (AFP)

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi is hoping to achieve a breakthrough on the issue of the water of the Tigris River, which has been the subject of chronic disagreement between Iraq and Turkey.

Analysts point to hardline stances taken by Ankara regarding this extremely vital issue for Iraqis.

Kadhimi’s efforts in this field focus on signing a special protocol with Ankara, relative to the water resources of the Tigris, which stipulates deploying field monitoring stations to measure flow rates, all the way downstream to the city of Basra in southern Iraq.

Sources in Kadhimi’s office revealed to The Arab Weekly that the Iraqi prime minister’s visit to Ankara scheduled for Thursday will include the signing of a protocol “regulating the water relationship between the two countries on the main axis of the Tigris River following the construction of the Turkish Ilisu Dam,” a protocol prepared by Baghdad during the past three months, in full coordination with Ankara.

During the past few years, Iraq has suffered greatly from the scarcity of Tigris water, which irrigates large agricultural areas in Iraq all along the river’s course, starting from the north and ending with its estuary in the south. This development followed the launching in Turkey of the south-eastern Anatolia Project (GAP) that included the construction of a series of lakes and dams along the course of the Tigris in Turkey, and that has affected the river flow downstream.

There is a widespread belief among Iraqis that Turkey is manipulating the Tigris River issue to achieve political goals, and this explains why its water policy with Iraq differs from one government to another.

Turkey is trying to extract everything it can from Iraq in return for every drop of water that reaches Iraqi lands, despite the fact that the cross-border water agreements provide for the organisation of fixed water quotas for the riparian countries.

Sources in Kadhimi’s office said that the recently prepared protocol will resolve the ongoing debate between Iraq and Turkey for nearly 30 years over the waters of the Tigris River, amid hints that Baghdad might use the trade with Turkey file to secure a fair water agreement with Ankara.

The volume of trade exchanges between Iraq and Turkey is about 15 billion dollars annually, but the reality is that Iraq practically exports almost nothing to Turkey. Trade with Turkey is thus one way only and Ankara is keen on keeping it that way.

Iraqi Minister of Water Resources Mahdi Rashid al-Hamdani tried to sound decisive before accompanying Kadhimi on his visit to Turkey, as he talked about the Iraqi government’s ability to resolve the three-decade-long crisis with Turkey.

He said that Baghdad will not let “courtesy” replace Iraq’s water rights, pledging to meet Iraq’s water needs during the coming summer.

Significantly lower water levels are seen on the Tigris River, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)
Significantly lower water levels are seen on the Tigris River, in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP)

“The Council of Ministers voted on a protocol for cooperation with Turkey that guarantees Iraq’s share and will be presented during the prime minister’s upcoming visit to Turkey,” Hamdani explained, stressing the existence of “serious negotiations to ensure Iraq’s water rights.”

On Sunday, Turkish ambassador to Baghdad Fatih Yildiz, met with Hamdani, and said that negotiations on the Tigris River between Baghdad and Ankara have progressed. He also said that his country “believes that water is a subject of cooperation, not conflict.”

This past October 27, the Iraqi Council of Ministers authorised Finance Minister Ali Allawi to negotiate and sign a protocol for cooperation in managing the waters of the main axis of the Tigris River between the Republic of Iraq and the Republic of Turkey.

This authorisation came after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a special envoy to Baghdad to reach an agreement on the waters of the Tigris River, within the framework of Turkish efforts to strengthen the relationship with the Kadhimi government and preserve Ankara’s economic interests in Iraq.

The preamble to the protocol indicates that it came “based on the true desire of the Iraqi and Turkish governments to regulate the water relationship on the main axis of the Tigris River after the construction of the Turkish Ilisu Dam, and an affirmation by both sides of the principle of cooperation in the field of joint international waters, and a recognition of its importance in the agricultural, economic and social development of the two countries along the Tigris River.”

Officials at the Ministry of Water Resources say that the protocol, which is to be signed between Baghdad and Ankara during Kadhimi’s upcoming visit to Turkey, will guarantee Iraq a constant water quota per month from the Tigris River, which is a first in the water relations between the two countries in more than 30 years.

The protocol also includes the establishment of fixed monitoring stations along the course of the river, the most important of which will be in the city of Basra in southern Iraq, to ​​measure the rate of water flow in the Tigris throughout the year, provided that Turkish technicians participate in managing some of these stations to ensure speedy exchange of important information.

Observers say that Turkey wants to protect its large trade interests with Iraq and is trying to expand its sphere of influence in the country, amid speculation of declining American interest with the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

Turkey realises that Iraq will not be for the US more than an annex to its policy in the region towards Iran, which makes it an attractive arena for extending Ankara’s influence, in light of the major political and economic cracks it is exposed to.