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Restoring the Marshlands of Iraq: an ecosystem under threat (01/06/2021)

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Iraqi Marshlands: an ecosystem under threat

At the peak of their extension the Marshlands were considered to be the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East, covering more than 10,000 km2 and supporting a very diverse flora, fauna and an estimated human population of around 500,000 individuals

Their capacity to filter out the waste and other pollutants from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has been for the key factor in preserving a pristine ecosystem and preventing the degradation of the Gulf coast

The physical extent of the permanent marshes ecosystem (cfr. the areas covered by water and marsh vegetation for the over three years) is a network of three major systems covering 7,875 km: Al-Haweza 1,377 km2, Central 2,420 km2 and AlHammar 1,762 km2, and then 8 minor marshes. The seasonal and marginal marshes land includes also the area within 5 km of permanent marshland, which is about 35,600 km2

The Saddam Hussein’s regime saw the marshes as refuge for internal opposition and its inhabitants, often defined as Marsh Arabs, were accused of treachery during the 1980-1988 war with Iran. In order to flush out the rebels hiding in the reeds, the regime dammed the marshlands throughout the 1990s: as result over 90% of the original marshlands area were drained or destroyed, the population of the largest nearby city fell from 67,000 to 6,000 by 2003 and over of 175,000 of its people were forced to flee and relocate throughout Iraq and beyond It is estimated that more than 75,000 residents from the Marshlands fled to Iran, with around 100,000 settling elsewhere in Iraq