Office of Resources, Trade, and4
Iraq: Environmental Impact of Baghdad's Marsh Drying Scheme
Sinceaghdad haseries of causeways, dams, and canals that have dried up substantial portions or the Hawr al Ham mar and Ai Amarah marshes in southeastern Iraq. These actions-part of Saddam's attempts to quell the insurrection in the south-have disrupted an ancient wetland ecology:
loss of surface water has damaged or destroyed the habitat of numerous indigenous wetland animal and plant species.
surface salts may have been deposited In increasing the salinity of local soils-
Over the long term, other ecological problems probably will occur:
Drought-resistant scrub bushes and other plants will most likely begin replacing native species.
Flooding may increase because of the loss of the marshes' absorption capacity.
Baghdad claims it has plans for af development in the former "
- The_ marshes also served to filter silt and pollutants; their destruction will probably increase chemical runoff into the northern Persian Gulf and increase sedimentation in the diversion canals, the Shalt al Arab waterway, and Shatt al Basrah"
- The regime has mismanaged irrigation schemes in recent years south and west of Baghdad; if it were to cultivate the marshes, similar mismanagement there would likely create even more serious soil problems than currently exist.
aghdad hasumber of projects designed to dry the Hawr al Hammar and Al Amarah marshes in southeastern Iraq and thus deprive Shia insurgentsase of operations. The regime diverted the Euphrates River, which partly supplied ihe twot flowed between them, via two canals to the
Shalt al Basrah.
the area damage.
Baghdad also diverted water from the west bank distributaries Tigris River, the primary source of the Al Amarah's waters,eries of causeways and canals known collectively as the Glory River; other Tigris water was shunted via another canal, the Crown of Battles River, that flows into the Hawr al Hawizah marsh on the Iran-Iraq bonier. Excess water from this marsh is drained into the Shatt al Arab waterway. These activities have desiccated the wetland habitat on which the rebelsgus residents subsisted and caused possibly irreparable ecological
The most dramatic impact from the loss of surface water has beenHk-spread destruction of indigenous vegetation that needs year-round waterThis includes the algae and bacteria that lived in the root system ofvegetation; these formed the first stage of the food chain and most likelyyears to become reestablished even if water were reintroduced. Otherinclude mint, thistle,,and the marsh reeds, or qasab, which werethe Al
_ esult of the loss of their habitat, an assortment of wetlandhave likely fled or died. Water buffalo, wild boars, and otters arelarger animals affected-primaxily in the Al Amarah--according to anaiiimal -the rod
species-rattierariety of the ordinary pest rat-it could be considered an endangered species. Various fish populations have also disappeared,nd carp, on which the local marsh inhabitants depended for
. frogs <uiu
snakes are probably dead as weu. numerous species ot migratory and local birds also inhabited the marshes, including ducks, eagles, falcons, herons, and pelicans. Most birds have probably relocated to nearby areas, like the Hawr al Hawizah,esc new populations will likely stress the carrying capacity of these areas.
In addition to affecting the flora and fauna, the drying of the marshes has most likely made the ground surface in parts of the former marshes, particularly the Hawr al Uammar, more saline. Although further detrimental saUnization of soils typically requires an extended period of wetting and drying, some salt accumulations crust may have formed on the bed of the former marsh as surface water
of the former Hawr al
Hammar may be mote saline than the Al Amarah because it was fed by the mure saline Euphrates River. In the Al Amarah, depositions would probably be the thickest in the southernmost portions because fresh water from the Tigris entered the marsh in the
Longer Term Ecological Effects
The former marshes' ability to recover will decrease over time. The flooding regimearsh determines its ecological character, and slight variations result in drastic changes in vegetation patterns, according to an academic source. The longer that surface water is absent, the less likely various wetland plant species will survive-evenormant state. Drought-resistant species will most likely begin to encroach from the edges of the former marshes. These include low shrubby perennials that arc seemingly lifeless during the summer but grow actively after winter rains according
Effects of Potential Agricultural Development
Despite the fact that soils in some areas of the marshes already had high concentrations of sails and gypsum and that the drying process has probably left portions of the surface even more saline, Baghdad may eventually folio* through on its claims that it wants to expand irrigation agriculture into the former marshes. During the next few years, Iraqi farmers could introduce crops such as rice, alfalfa, barley, and salt-tolerant tomatoes; the Iraqis may also plant date palms along waterways to
make up_for extensive losses suffered during the Iran-Iraq war.1
irrigation may Be more easily
accomplished in the former marshes than in other cultivated areas because water can be diverted into the network of waterways that formerly crisscrossed the marshes. Nevertheless, extensive clearing and other preparations would be needed to build an efficient system of irrigated cultivation.
If the Iraqis use the same agricultural practices they have used elsewhere to cultivate similar marsh areas, the Hawr al Hammar's and Al Amarah's already saline soils could experience even more severe salinity problems. Iraqi farmers typically use flood-and-furrow irrigation to water field crops; this leaves salts behind on ihe surface when the water evaporates, unless the soils are leached and properly drained. Although Iraqi farmers are capable of properly managing the soils, they often take short cuts for short-term boosts in crop productivit
| If extensive
Mion occurs in the marshes, it would not only reduce agricultu also hamper the ability of the marshes to return to their former state.Original document.