Friday, May 15, 2009

Turkey exploiting another geopolitical tool

Turkey's methodical efforts to reap the maximum benefits from its geostrategic position continues to bear fruit. Last year Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan visited Iraq; whilst this year the Turkish President Abdullah Gul met with the Iraqi leadership in late March. Turkey is already one of Iraq's most important trading partners with Turkish firms dominating northern Iraq's (Kurdistan) economy. Furthermore, more than 20% of Iraq's exports are piped through the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

One of the key discussions during these meetings was the provision of water from Turkey to Iraq. The parties agreed for Turkey to double the flow of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in order to increase agricultural production in Mesopotamia. According to Ioannis Theodoratou (who writes for the Defence Report), Turkey controls 52% of the Tigris and Iraq controls the rest. Also, Turkey controls 89% of the Euphrates and Syria controls 11%. Interestingly, most of the water flows from Turkey's restive south-east which is heavily dominated by Kurds. Syria and Iraq are also in discussions to increase the flow of water into Iraq.

Of course, Turkey is not missing any opportunity to use the provision of water from its territory to strengthen its bargaining position in its relations with Iraq and Syria. Theodarotou refers to this as the geopolitics of water. For example, despite relations between Turkey and Syria being poor for many years, relations have recently been improving. Apart from joint military exercises recently, which raised eyebrows across the region; notably Israel, Turkey and Syria have agreed to build a dam across the Orontis river which again flows from Turkey through Syria and then out to the Mediterranean. Syria is a relatively dry country and badly requires the construction of dams to manage water supplies. Turkish construction and engineering firms have won the very lucrative contracts to build the dam.

Source: Defence Report (Ioannis Theodoratou)

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