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Turkey, Iraq and Syria in water crisis summit

  • Story Highlights
  • Tigris River has plunged to record low levels, Iraqi farmers say
  • Iraq, Syria want Turkey, where rivers' source is located, to increase water flow
  • Meeting comes amid Iraqi accusations that Syria is harboring terrorists
  • They have withdrawn their ambassadors from each others' capitals
By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert
CNN
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ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Turkish, Iraqi and Syrian ministers met in Ankara on Thursday to discuss water shortages in the major Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which run through all three countries.

Iraqi fishermen ride their motor boat in the waters of the Tigris River in Baghdad.

Iraqi fishermen ride their motor boat in the waters of the Tigris River in Baghdad.

The meeting comes amid a diplomatic spat over Iraqi accusations that Syria is harboring terrorists.

The Tigris River has plunged to record low levels, Iraqi farmers told CNN. Iraq is suffering a drought that its officials are calling a "catastrophe."

Baghdad and Damascus want Turkey, where the source of the Tigris and Euphrates is located, to increase the flow of water passing through its network of dams.

"Syria and Iraq are badly in need of water but our Iraqi brothers feel the need much more ... it is why this meeting is so important," Turkey's official Anatolian Agency quoted Syrian Irrigation Minister Nader al-Bounni as saying at the start of Thursday's tri-partite meeting to address water resources. "Our dams are empty and we have human needs."

Also attending the meeting was Iraq's Water and Natural Resources and Turkey's Environment and Forestry minister, as well as its Energy minister .

But at the start of the meeting at a hotel in the Turkish capital, Turkey's energy minister seemed to rule out delivering significant quantities of additional water to Iraq and Syria.

"We are aware of the water needs of Syria and Iraq," Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told journalists at the entrance to the conference. "Water is not plenty in Turkey, and therefore we cannot exceed the determined amount too much."

Turkey provided Syria and Iraq 500 cubic meters of water a second, Yildiz said. But, he added, central and eastern Turkey had only received 350 cubic meters/second of water this year.

The Turkish government said rainfall over its part of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers plummeted by about 46 percent in the past three years.

Over the past decade, some environmental and political analysts have written about the scenario of a "water war" possibly breaking out in the Middle East as countries affected by climate change compete over dwindling access to fresh water.

However, there are more immediate political tensions complicating relations between the neighboring countries.

Syria and Iraq have withdrawn their ambassadors from each others' capitals after a series of deadly suicide truck bombings in Baghdad killed more than 100 people last month.

Iraq demanded Syria hand over several suspects it accuses of organizing the attacks. Damascus has denied charges that it is harboring insurgents.

This week, Turkey's foreign minister shuttled between Baghdad and Damascus, carrying messages between the two capitals in an effort to defuse tensions.

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