Iraq seeks neighborly help with shrinking rivers

Iraqi environmental activist Nabil Musa is certain that other regional powers are partly responsible for his country's dried up riverbeds.

Waters like the once-swirling Sirwan river in the north have now dwindled to a trickle.

"Where we are standing right now, there should be a river. You can tell."

With this year's lack of rainfall, Iraq is badly short of water.

Officials are trying to revive rivers like the Sirwan, but say lower flows from their upstream neighbors in Iran and Turkey are worsening home-grown problems, like leaks, ageing pipes, and the illegal siphoning of supplies.

Musa believes that Iran is now "controlling all" of the Sirwan's flow.

"This is our drinking water, this is our life blood. People from here, from Halabja, further downstream, where we have huge agricultural lands that become like a marshland and wetland. All people from the villages from here they depend on this water, using it for drinking, for agriculture, for everything. // And this water is being completely controlled by Iranian dams and, without actually… We don't even know when they release the water."

Iran and Turkey are building big dams to solve their own water problems.

But getting regional cooperation on the issue is proving difficult.

Iraqi officials said Iran's Daryan dam is diverting parts of the Sirwan onto Iranian land via a 29-mile-long tunnel.

When Reuters asked about this allegation, Iranian officials declined to comment.

Though a senior Iranian official did say that drought in Iran is an issue too, one that had "caused blackouts and protest."

He added that the country's first priority would be "meeting our domestic need and then our neighbors".

Ahmed Mahmud is an Iraqi fisherman from the Imami Zamen village. He says communities like his have no time to spare.

Most of the village's 70 families have already left. Even the primary school has closed.

"If I am not mistaken, it has been two years since the water decreased. I have been near this lake for exactly 40 years, and for two years I haven't been fishing. When I was young I was in the lake a lot, there was a lot of fish."

Mahmud says if the river stays this dry, he and his family will have to leave too.

An Iraqi water ministry spokesperson told Reuters that water flows from Iran and Turkey had halved since June.

Turkey did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this.

Though they're proving difficult, Iraqi officials say talks are currently underway with Turkey on how much water it will allow downstream.

But there are no talks on the subject with Iran, which in the last three decades has initiated the construction of at least 600 dams nationwide.

Iraqi officials tried last June to meet with Tehran to discuss water shortages and seek information about Iran's water management strategy - but their efforts were unsuccessful.

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