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Iraq accuses Iran of cutting off two main tributaries to vital rivers

The Karun River in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan, on April 11, 2019. [ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images]
A woman walks with her children along the Karun River which has burst its banks in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's southwestern province of Khuzestan, on April 11, 2019. - Authorities ordered tens of thousands of residents of the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz to evacuate immediately on April 10 as floodwaters entered the capital of oil-rich Khuzestan province, state television reported. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)

Iraq accused Iran yesterday of cutting off the tributaries to the Sirwan and Karun rivers, Anadolu has reported. According to the Minister of Water Resources in Baghdad, this has caused a water shortage in Diyala governorate in the east of the country and affected the quality of water resources in Shatt Al-Arab, in the far south.

Mahdi Rashid Al-Hamdani made his comments during a meeting with Nizar Al-Khairallah, the Iraqi Undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "It is necessary to hold meetings with Iran to determine details of the water-releasing process and sharing responsibility for the damage resulting from the water scarcity that the whole region is experiencing, especially after cutting off the flow of the Karun and Sirwan rivers," insisted Al-Hamdani.

Shatt Al-Arab is where the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris meet in southern Iraq. The lack of water from the two major rivers causes a rise in salinity levels.

The Iraqi officials apparently also discussed the negotiations with neighbouring and upstream countries about ensuring Iraq's water share and the need to activate the signing of the protocol with Turkey after earlier positive results.

In December 2014, Iraq and Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding covering water supply. The most prominent of the MoU's twelve articles stress the importance of cooperation in the management of the Tigris and Euphrates water resources and determining the share of each country.

READ: Iraq calls on Syria to increase water supply amid crisis

Al-Hamdani highlighted the "necessity" to speed-up diplomatic action in the international community in order to ensure Iraq's water rights from upstream countries. He threatened during a press conference last month to resort to international circles if Iran insisted on cutting off the water flowing into Iraq's eastern regions. He said at the time that, "Iraq hopes that Iran will cooperate as Turkey has, with Ankara agreeing to share responsibility for the water crisis with Iraq." In June, Iraq announced that Turkey had decided to release water into the Tigris and Euphrates to help ease the water shortage crisis.

Iraq relies mainly on the Tigris and Euphrates and related tributaries for fresh water. All originate in Turkey or Iran and converge near the city of Basra in southern Iraq to form Shatt Al-Arab, the waterway which flows into the Arabian Gulf. For years, Iraq has been witnessing a steady decline in water resources from the two rivers, with low rainfall adding to the problem.

At the time of writing, Iran had not replied to a request for a comment on the Iraqi statement.

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