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Iraq, Syria Challenge Turkey on Water Use

A TRIPARTITE meeting in Ankara collapsed last week after Turkey and neighboring Syria and Iraq failed to resolve a longstanding water conflict. Syrian and Iraqi ministers charged that Turkey has acted selfishly and unilaterally in limiting the supply of water from the Euphrates River to their respective lands, jeopardizing the future of irrigation and power projects and the livelihood of farmers.

The ministers repeated longstanding demands that Turkey commit itself to supply an adequate ``quota'' of water downstream.

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They fear that Turkey will withhold further the flow of the river when its ambitious South Anatolia Development Project is completed. Last January, the Turks blocked the flow of the water for one month, to in order to fill the reservoir of the huge Ataturk Dam, which is the centerpiece of the project.

Turkey insists that, except for the one-month interruption in January, it provides the 500 cubic meters/per second of water, as agreed in 1987. It rejects demands by the Syrians to raise this to over 700 cubic meters and claims that the amount of water that has been supplied is adequate, provided it is properly used and measures are taken to prevent waste.

The Turks also maintain that there are no international laws or rules that would force them to share what they call ``the cross-border waters.''

``We oppose the concept of sharing the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, which are the Turkish people's resources. We said that this is like Turkey asking the Arab countries for the right to share their oil,'' says Cengiz Altinkaya, Turkish Minister of Public Works.

Prime Minister Yilidirim Akbulut said he offered Syria and Iraq a new formula, according to which Turkey would supply 700 cubic meters per second during summer, but would reduce the present 500 cubic-meter level in winter, amounting to the pledged 500 cubic meter on an annual average.

But Iraq and Syria rejected this proposal too, he said.

``Years of efforts to improve relations with those two countries are now overshadowed by the water conflict ... This is a very serious problem that can further damage our relationship and threaten peace and security in the Middle East,'' says a Turkish Foreign Ministry official.

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Turkish officials repeated assurances to the Syrians and the Arab world last week that Turkey is not going to use the water as a ``weapon.'' But Syrian and Iraqi fears on the subject persist.

Only a few months ago, President Turgut Ozal hinted in a public speech that Turkey might cut the water supply to Syria, unless the Syrian authorities ended their support to the Kurdish rebels.

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