The creation of Iraq’s first national park is one way the government and people of Iraq are rectifying atrocities committed under the late dictator Saddam Hussein. In the summer of 2013, the Iraqi Council of Ministers created the Central Marshes of Iraq to help preserve the country’s important marshlands.
In the 1990s, the Saddam regime conducted a campaign to drain the marshlands to punish the local Madan Marsh Arab population for backing an uprising against the dictator and eliminate hiding places for political opponents. Saddam ordered the killing of thousands of Marsh Arabs, slaughtered their livestock and initiated a massive construction project to divert water from the region. Dams, canals and pipelines changed the courses of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and drained them directly into the Arabian Gulf. The new waterways were given names such as “Loyalty to the Leader Canal” and “Saddam River.” The results were environmentally disastrous and reduced the marshlands by almost 93 percent. The United Nations considers the event one of the worst environmental disasters of the last century.
The restoration of the historically and environmentally important marshes has become a mission for many. Located in southern Iraq and surrounded by desert, the Mesopotamian Marshlands were formed as the rivers split into hundreds of channels before flowing into the Gulf. The marshes are an anomaly in an otherwise arid terrain and provide homes for fish, water buffalo and migrating birds, and jobs for Iraqis as fisherman and tour guides.
Since 2003, many have taken action to restore and preserve the marshes, actions that culminated in the creation of the first national park. Iraq’s Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Municipalities have collaborated with the Iraq-based environmental organization, Nature Iraq, to make the project a success. The Italian Ministry of Environment, Land & Sea supplied financial support.
“With this action, Iraq has acted to preserve the cradle of civilization,” said Azzam Alwash, founder and president of the Board of Directors of Nature Iraq. “It is now the duty of the world to help Iraq maintain these wetlands for the future generations by helping [neighboring countries] to reach an equitable agreement on the sharing of the waters in the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates.”
Sources: BBC, Nature Iraq, The Washington Post