The Marshes of Southern Mesopotamia (Iraq)


The marsh region in Southern Iraq is triangular in shape. Its base extends between two provinces, Al-Nassiriya in the West and Al-Amara in the East. The head of the Triangle is formed by Basra province in the South. The surface area of the marshes is estimated to be about 250 square kilometers. The population is between 350.000 and half a million. There are different opinions about their origin. Some believe they are descendants of the original Sumerians, while others say that they are from Arab tribes which came from the Arabian Peninsula.

   After the second Gulf war in 1991 and the Iraqi uprising against Saddam Hussein and his repressive regime, the Marsh Dwellers were amongst those who revolted against the regime. The reaction of the regime was very harsh, and a genocide campaign was launched against them. Thousands were killed and the rest fled to Iran and other countries. The regime has deliberately drained 90 per cent of the marshes and forced the rest of the population to migrate to other regions of Iraq.

The Study consists of three chapters:

Chapter One:

This chapter deals with the geographical and environmental conditions of Iraq as a whole and the historical role of Tigris and Euphrates (the Twin Rivers) in the ancient civilizations. Also what the mythologies told about the roles of Gods in ancient Mesopotamia, where the Twin Rivers were regarded as the rivers of Paradise. Changes in the course of the rivers at different times of history have been explained, including the branches connecting the two rivers. This chapter also gives a description of the current streams and shapes of the two rivers and the dams and irrigation projects built on them during modern Iraqi history.


Chapter Two:

This chapter explains how the marshes were formed and how they developed in Southern Iraq through history. Also how myths and anecdotes were transmitted from generation to generation about how the marshes were formed. The current government projects to drain the marshes are described as well as details of the irrigation projects in the marsh regions which have been adversely affected by the desiccation. Facts and evidence are given about the origins of the Marsh People, discussing different opinions about this issue, including their culture and mythology. The chapter also discusses the expected ecological disaster from desiccation of the marshes which will affect the region, the people and life in general, locally as well as in neighboring countries. The last section of this chapter discusses animal life in the marshes and its economic importance for peoples lives (jobs and professions) like fishing, bird catching and holding buffaloes and cattle in addition to agricultural activities.


Chapter Three:

This chapter discusses the role of the Marsh People in the civilizations of Mesopotamia and the repression they were exposed to during different times in history, due to occupations and invasions by different nations and rulers. Also the anthropology and ethnicity of the populations of the marshes are detailed, and their suffering because of the sectarian policies adopted by successive governments against the Shiites which form the majority of the Iraqi Arab population in the South.

   The author discusses the main reasons for the compulsory emigration of the Marsh Arabs, forced on them by Saddam Husseins regime since the Gulf war in 1991.The chapter also deals with the damage caused to the tribes living in the area as a result of draining the marshes as well as the indifferent stance of the Arab and other states. It also refers to the United Nations resolutions dealing with the plight of the Marsh Arabs.

   Finally the possibility is explored of restoring the marshes to their original form after overthrowing Saddams government and his repressive regime. How can the original ecological situation be recreated, how can one repatriate the Marsh People to their homeland, encouraging them to resume their culture, folklore, professions and their ways of life which they inherited from their Sumerian ancestors. Different opinions are quoted of many experts who visited the marsh area.


The Supplements:

Consists of a glossary of the vocabulary and scientific terminology related to the study, giving the definition of each of them to help the reader to understand the study. Then a list of references which the study has used, followed by a bibliography of Arabic and foreign books and journals.