Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) and Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia Al Sudani shaking hands during a joint press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on March 21, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged  to step up the flow of water along the Tigris River to drought-stricken Iraq for one month.

Baghdad accuses Ankara of withholding water in dams that choke the Tigris and Euphrates rivers near their point of origin in Turkey.

The issue has gained added urgency as the entire region is gripped by a years-long drought that has emptied water reservoirs and threatened food security for millions of people.

Erdogan told Iraq’s visiting Prime Minister Mohammad Shia Al Sudani  on Tuesday that he was aware of the “urgent need for water” in Turkey’s war-scarred neighbour.

Official Iraqi statistics show the level of the Tigris entering the country last year dropping to just 35 per cent of its average over the past century.

“For one month, we have taken the decision to increase the volume of water flowing along the Tigris River,” Erdogan told a joint media appearance with Al Sudani.

“The issue of water will hopefully be resolved,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan did not mention Turkey’s dam building projects or explain how he intended to step up the water flows.

The Turkish leader also failed to specify why the decision was only taken for one month.

Security concerns

But Erdogan’s comments received a warm welcome from the Iraqi premier during his first official visit to Turkey since assuming office last October.

“I want to express my gratitude and thanks to the president from the Iraqi people,” Al Sudani said.

Turkey’s relations with its neighbour have also been complicated by the presence of Kurdish insurgents from the PKK group - recognised as a terror organisation by Ankara and its Western allies - in the mountainous northern Iraq.

Erdogan repeated his demand for Iraq to recognise the PKK as a terror group.

Sudani said only that Iraq recognised Turkey’s security concerns.

“We won’t allow Iraq to be used as a launching pad for attacks on Turkey,” he said.

Turkey has dozens of military facilities in northern Iraq for use in its war against the PKK.

The PKK’s decades-long fight for an independent Kurdish state has claimed tens of thousands of lives in Turkey since 1984.