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Water row dominates Iraq-Turkey summit

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 9/17/2009 12:00:00 AM |

Senior ministers from Turkey and Iraq meet in Istanbul for talks aimed at boosting cooperation in a wide range of areas, mainly in the economic field. However, Iraq’s urgent water problem overshadows the meeting with an Iraqi minister saying shortages prompt tension in the war-torn country

Iraq's pressing water problem has dominated the agenda of the first ministerial meeting regarding Turkish-Iraq high-level strategic cooperation on Thursday in Istanbul.

The meeting, presided by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, brought together seven ministers from each side, including the representatives for energy, transportation, housing, environment, interior, agriculture and health.

Nearly all Iraqi ministers complained about the severe drought problem in their war-torn country, with the interior minister saying that the water shortage has sparked tensions among locals in central and southern Iraq. He said the shortages have become a security issue in the country.

Iraqi ministers asked Turkey to release more water urgently. The Iraqi government has been blaming Turkey for retaining water in dams built on the Euphrates River. “We are doing everything within our capacity,” Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yıldız said of Iraqi complaints. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has instructed the relevant ministries to do their utmost to alleviate Iraq's water problem, said a Turkish official who briefed the press about the talks.

[HH] Security issue

After brief introductory remarks in the morning, the ministers held separate meetings with their counterparts on Thursday afternoon. If the cooperation model that has been adopted between Iraq and Turkey is also adopted by other countries, the region will become one of peace and stability, said Foreign Minister Davutoğlu in his opening remarks. The second meeting is scheduled to take place in Baghdad in October with the participation of the prime ministers.

While each minister tried to specify possible areas of cooperation, the Turkish and Iraqi interior ministers revised the work of the existing mechanism that was previously established to solve security problems, especially in the border areas. Turkey has long been claiming that Iraq is being used as a launching pad by the outlawed Kurdistan People's Party, or PKK. The trilateral security mechanism established by Turkey, the United States and Iraq has not borne any fruit, a Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “The Iraqi side is basically not doing much,” he said.

The fate of the Mahmour camp in northern Iraq was also on the agenda of the meeting between the two interior ministers, officials said. The Iraqi government would like to see the camp, which is home to nearly 10,000 Kurds from Turkey, closed. Negotiations have taken place to evacuate the camp.

The Iraqi government as well as the United Nations' refugee agency wants a quick return of the refugees from the camp located near Erbil. Yet the Turkish government has asked for a carefully planned relocation mechanism as it claims that the camp is totally under the control of the PKK and that it is home to hard-line militants.

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