BAGHDAD- Iraq has banned farmers from planting rice and other water-intensive crops in the face of increasing shortages because of drought and shrinking river flows, an agriculture ministry official said on Thursday.

A letter from the Minister of Water Resources Hassan al-Janabi to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's office seen by Reuters showed the ministry had decided to exclude rice and corn from the government's summer agriculture plan to prioritise drinking water, industry and vegetables.

The agriculture ministry was not happy about the decision but could do nothing to stop it, its spokesman said.

"Rice and yellow corn are out of the summer agriculture plan due to lack of water. As a ministry we are embarrassed, especially as the crops are strategic and farmers had already prepared their land to plant them," spokesman Hameed al-Nayef said.

"The Ministry of Agriculture cannot plant a single donhum without the approval of the Ministry of Water Resources."

Iraq planted 100,000 donhums of rice last season, he said. One Iraqi donhum is equal to 2,500 square metres.

Problems with drought and shrinking water levels are further complicated by Turkey's plan to fill a huge dam on the Tigris, which had already started but was paused after complaints from Iraq. 

About 70 percent of Iraq's water resources flow from neighbouring countries, with the Tigris and Euphrates rivers -- which run through Turkey -- particularly important sources.

Prime Minister Abadi has said the government plans to provide water to farmers, especially for Iraq's strategic wheat crop, but that it would reduce plots of land reserved for planting other crops that consume a lot of water.

(Reporting by Moayed Kenany Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein Editing by David Goodman) ((; +964 790 191 7021; Reuters Messaging: