Turkey and Iraq should apply for U.N. arbitration to resolve a long-standing water problem, according to grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, a spiritual leader for Shiites in Iraq and the wider region, as well as a major political force.
Ayatollah Al-Sistani made the suggestion yesterday at a meeting with Foreign Minister Ahmet DavutoÄŸlu as part of the Turkish ministerâ€™s two-day trip to Iraq.
â€œAl-Sistani complained about Turkeyâ€™s cutting of the flow of water into Iraq and Turkeyâ€™s construction of dams on these rivers,â€ a source familiar with the talks told the HÃ¼rriyet Daily News.
The rivers in question, the Euphrates and Tigris, both begin in Turkey and pass through Syria and Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf in Basra. Al-Sistani said Iraqis were suffering from water shortages and that the issue should be resolved through bilateral mechanisms and, if subsequently necessary, through U.N. arbitration.
DavutoÄŸlu explained Turkeyâ€™s position with regard to water allowance to neighboring countries, but Ayatollah al-Sistani was unconvinced, according to the source. DavutoÄŸlu earlier said he would not discuss political issues with Ayatollah al-Sistani but most of their conversation reportedly focused on political issues. The two men also discussed ways to avoid a sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East.
In his statement after the meeting with Ayatollah al-Sistani, DavutoÄŸlu expressed his happiness for being in Najaf, one of the Shiite holy towns, during the sacred month of Muharram.
DavutoÄŸlu described his meetings with both Ayatollah al-Sistani and al-Sadr as â€œproductive,â€ in regards to eliminating concerns over a regional sectarian conflict.
Black shirt, green tie
In a highly symbolic move to demonstrate his mourning for the killing of Imam Hussein, which is commemorated by Shiites during Muharrem, DavutoÄŸlu wore a black shirt and a green tie. DavutoÄŸlu visited another prominent Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, in Najaf before proceeding to another Shiite holy town, Karbala.
â€˜Difference of views on Syria not majorâ€™
Discussions about Turkeyâ€™s alleged support for radical groups in Syria were not raised in talks with either Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or his Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, DavutoÄŸlu said, dismissing claims to the contrary.
Iraqi reporters who raised the issue were actually influenced by reports in international media, DavutoÄŸlu said.
Underlining the intense speculation over the issue, he said there were also findings indicating use of Iraqi territory by radical groups in order to pass to Syria.
According to DavutoÄŸlu, the difference of views between Ankara and Baghdad over the Syria crisis is not major, noting that the two capitals would continue dialogue.