ISBN: 9781649033253

Kjetil Selvik

Norwegian Institute for International Affairs (NUPI)

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At the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers lies an area of wetlands known as the Mesopotamian Marshlands. Fifty years ago, they were among the largest wetlands in the world. The marshes sustained a rich flora and fauna and were home to a human population of between 500,000 and 750,000. They had formed a reservoir of freshwater since the early ages in a land where some of the first instances of advanced human civilization emerged. Geographer Steve Lonergan traces the modern history of the Iraqi portion of these wetlands alongside the engineer and environmental activist Jassim al-Asadi, whose life the book recounts. They document the consequences of the turbulence that Iraq experienced under Ba‘th party rule, Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, the war with Iran, the invasion of Kuwait, the 1991 uprisings, the 2003 US occupation, and the present feckless state. Saddam deliberately dried up the marshes in 1992 as punishment for the Southern Iraqi Shia population, who had revolted against his regime. Although they were reflooded in 2003, lingering problems resulting from oil and agricultural production, upstream dam construction, especially in Turkey and Iran, environmental changes, and government mismanagement have reduced the marshes to a shadow of what they used to be. The authors relate this tragedy as a story where they weave together the wetland civilization's history, traditions, and mythology with gripping and dramatic tales from individuals’ lives in the present. The book has beautiful prose and illustrations, making it as engaging to read as the destruction caused by man arouses sorrow.