Shiite leader asks Turkey to give Iraq more water

Shiite leader asks Turkey to give Iraq more water

NAJAF - Hürriyet Daily News
Shiite leader asks Turkey to give Iraq more water

Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu visits the Imam Ali Holy Shrine in Najaf after his talks with powerful Iraqi Shiite leaders al-Sistani and al-Sadr. AA photo

Turkey and Iraq should apply for U.N. arbitration to resolve a long-standing water problem, according to Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a spiritual leader for Shiites in Iraq and the wider region, as well as a major political force.

Al-Sistani made the suggestion yesterday at a meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu as part of the Turkish minister’s two-day trip to Iraq. 

“Al-Sistani complained about Turkey’s cutting of the flow of water into Iraq and Turkey’s construction of dams on these rivers,” a source familiar with the talks told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The rivers in question, the Euphrates and Tigris, both begin in Turkey and pass through Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf in Basra. Al-Sistani said Iraqis were suffering from water shortages and that the issue should be resolved through bilateral mechanisms and, if subsequently necessary, through U.N. arbitration.

Davutoğlu explained Turkey’s position with regard to water allowance to neighboring countries, but al-Sistani was unconvinced, according to the source. Davutoğlu earlier said he would not discuss political issues with al-Sistani but most of their conversation reportedly focused on political issues. The two men also discussed ways to avoid a sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East.

In his statement after the meeting with al-Sistani, Davutoğlu expressed his happiness for being in Najaf, one of the Shiite holy towns, during the sacred month of Muharrem.

Davutoğlu described his meetings with both al-Sistani and al-Sadr as “productive,” in regards to eliminating concerns over a regional sectarian conflict. 

Black shirt, green tie

In a highly symbolic move to demonstrate his mourning for the killing of Imam Hussein, which is commemorated by Shiites during Muharrem, Davutoğlu wore a black shirt and a green tie. Davutoğlu visited another prominent Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, in Najaf before proceeding to another Shiite holy town, Karbala.

‘Difference of views on Syria not major’

Discussions about Turkey’s alleged support for radical groups in Syria were not raised in talks with either Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or his Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Davutoğlu said, dismissing claims to the contrary.

Iraqi reporters who raised the issue were actually influenced by reports in international media, Davutoğlu said.

Underlining the intense speculation over the issue, he said there were also findings indicating use of Iraqi territory by radical groups in order to pass to Syria.

According to Davutoğlu, the difference of views between Ankara and Baghdad over the Syria crisis is not major, noting that the two capitals would continue dialogue.