Iraq Marshes Mending, But Full Recovery Uncertain, Stud

Nicholas Bakalar
for National Geographic News
July 7, 2006

The Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq once covered more than 5,800 square miles (15,000 square kilometers)—an area larger than the U.S.'s Florida Everglades.

The wetlands were so lush and full of life that some experts have speculated they inspired the biblical story of the Garden of Eden.

But by 2000 the marshes were reduced to less than 10 percent of their previous size under a systematic plan by then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to dam, dike, and drain them.

Since Hussein's fall from power in 2003, efforts have been underway to restore the region to its former condition.

(Read "Iraq's Eden: Reviving the Legendary Marshes" [2003].)

In a new paper, a pair of researchers from the U.S. and Iraq describes the present status of the marshes and assesses their future prospects.

Curtis J. Richardson, a resource ecologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and Najah Hussain, an aquatic ecologist at Iraq's University of Basrah, co-authored the study. Their report appeared in last month's issue of the journal BioScience.

Political Maneuver

The Mesopotamian marshes lie within the Tigris-Euphrates river basin, which spans Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The largest portion sits along Iraq's southern border with Iran (see a map of Iraq).

For years oil drilling, agriculture, and river damming had been steadily changing the character of Iraq's marshes, home to about 300,000 Marsh Arabs, or Ma'adan, and many species of wetland animals.

In 1991 Hussein's regime decided to counter Ma'adan participation in a southern uprising by wiping out their traditional homeland.

Villages were burned, rebels were executed, and water was drained and diverted from lands once teeming with life.

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