Iraqi Marshes

One of the nastier moves by Saddam was to drain the southern marshes of Iraq in order, essentially, to eradicate the peoples known as the Marsh Arabs. One of the nice stories among the debacles and violence of the last two years in Iraq is the story of the slow resurgence of those marshes.

One of the world’s greatest marshland habitats – and home of an ancient culture – is beginning to show the first signs of recovery after decades of systematic destruction under Saddam Hussein.

An international scientific assessment of Iraq’s drained wetlands, the first since they were partially reflooded after the downfall of Saddam, has found that the giant reeds are growing once more and the water birds and otters are returning. However, ecologists told the American Association for the Advancement of Science yesterday that some parts of the Iraqi marshes may never recover fully because of a build-up of salt in the soil during the time when they had been artificially dammed or drained. . . .

Curtis Richardson, a wetlands expert at Duke University, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC that in the areas where recovery is going well, more than half of the species of birds have returned.

The Iraqi marshes are an important wintering ground for species migrating between Africa and Siberia. “Right after the war, we were counting birds on one hand or two,” Professor Curtis said. “When we went back in February we were talking in the hundreds, and the most recent census shows we’re talking in the thousands.”