Iraq’s Garden of Eden now ‘like a desert’

Iraq’s Garden of Eden now ‘like a desert’
Iraq’s swamplands have been battered by three years of drought and low rainfall, as well as reduced river flows from neighboring Turkey and Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 18 August 2022

Iraq’s Garden of Eden now ‘like a desert’

Iraq’s Garden of Eden now ‘like a desert’

HUWAIZAH MARSHES, Iraq: To feed and cool his buffaloes, Hashem Gassed must cross 10 kilometers (6 miles) of sunburnt land in southern Iraq, where drought is devastating swaths of the mythical Mesopotamian Marshes.

The reputed home of the biblical Garden of Eden, Iraq’s swamplands have been battered by three years of drought and low rainfall, as well as reduced water flows along rivers and tributaries originating in neighboring Turkey and Iran.

Vast expanses of the once lush Huwaizah Marshes, straddling the border with Iran, have been baked dry, their vegetation yellowing. Stretches of the Chibayish Marshes, which are popular with tourists, are suffering the same fate.

“The marshes are our livelihood — we used to fish here and our livestock could graze and drink,” said Gassed, 35, from a hamlet near Huwaizah.

Southern Iraq’s marshlands were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016, both for their biodiversity and their ancient history.

But now, beds of dry streams snake around the once verdant wetlands, and the area’s Um Al-Naaj Lake has been reduced to puddles of muddy water among largely dry ground.

Like his father before him, Gassed raises buffaloes, but only five of the family’s around 30 animals are left.

The others died or were sold as the family struggles to make ends meet.

Family members watch carefully over those that remain, fearful that the weak, underfed beasts might fall in the mud and die.

“We have been protesting for more than two years and no one is listening,” Gassed said.

“We are at a loss where to go. Our lives are over.”

Nestled between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Mesopotamian Marshes suffered under the former dictator Saddam Hussein, who ordered that they be drained in 1991 as punishment for communities protecting insurgents, and to hunt them down.

The wetlands have sporadically gone through years of harsh drought in the past, before being revived by good rainy seasons.

But between August 2020 and this month, 46 percent of the swamplands of southern Iraq, including Huwaizah and Chibayish, suffered total surface water loss, according to Dutch peace-building organization PAX.

Another 41 percent of marsh areas suffered from reduced water levels and wetness, according to the organization, which used satellite data to make the assessment.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Iraq said the marshes were “one of the poorest regions in Iraq and one of the most affected by the climate change,” warning of “unprecedented low water levels.”

It noted the “disastrous impact” on more than 6,000 families who “are losing their buffaloes, their unique living asset.”

Biodiversity is also at risk.

The swamplands provide a home for “numerous populations of threatened species,” and are an important stopping point for around 200 species of migratory water birds, according to UNESCO.

Environmental activist Ahmed Saleh Neema said there were “no more fish,” wild boar or even a subspecies of smooth-coated otter in the marshes.


Iran indicts 14 in top nuclear scientist’s assassination

Iran indicts 14 in top nuclear scientist’s assassination
Updated 29 sec ago

Iran indicts 14 in top nuclear scientist’s assassination

Iran indicts 14 in top nuclear scientist’s assassination
  • Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed in attack on his car outside Tehran that Iran has blamed on Israel

TEHRAN: Iran has pressed charges against 14 people for their alleged role in the November 2020 assassination of top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, local media reported Sunday.
Fakhrizadeh, who had been under US sanctions for his role in Iran’s nuclear program, was killed in an attack on his car outside Tehran that the Islamic republic has blamed on Israel.
Tehran’s chief prosecutor Ali Salehi announced that “14 people were indicted” in the case, according to Tasnim news agency, without naming them.
The charges against them include “corruption on earth,” aiding “espionage for the Zionist regime,” “colluding with the purpose of disrupting national security” and “actions against national security,” Salehi said.
Iran claims that the bombing and shooting attack that killed Fakhrizadeh was carried out by a remote-controlled machine gun.
Israel has never commented on the killing. In 2018, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged that Fakhrizadeh had led Iran’s efforts to build an atomic bomb, a claim Iran has always vehemently denied.


Hayashi meets Egyptian foreign affairs minister

Hayashi meets Egyptian foreign affairs minister
Updated 9 min 47 sec ago

Hayashi meets Egyptian foreign affairs minister

Hayashi meets Egyptian foreign affairs minister

DUBAI: HAYASHI Yoshimasa, minister of foreign affairs of Japan, and Sameh Shoukry, minister of foreign affairs of Egypt, held a foreign ministers meeting discussing efforts to tackle climate change, methods of controlling the international food crisis, and further enhancing the bilateral relations between both countries on Sept. 22.

The COP27, a conference discussing the current climate situation, will be taking place in Egypt and HAYASHI expressed his hope to collaborate with the government of Egypt to extend efforts to hinder climate change. 

The Japanese minister argued that the root of the existing global food crisis stems from the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Both ministers agreed that cooperation between Japan and Egypt is mandatory to stop the current international food crisis as well as sustaining and enhancing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Minister Shoukry extended his condolences on the passing of the former prime minister and in return HAYASHI expressed his appreciation to the Egyptian president for sending a presidential envoy to attend the state funeral.

The two ministers shared a mutual agreement that both nations are vital partners for each other and encouraged further enhancement of the bilateral relationship. 

Originally published in Arab News Japan


Mahsa Amini faced torture, abuse before police custody death: Cousin

Mahsa Amini faced torture, abuse before police custody death: Cousin
Updated 29 min 49 sec ago

Mahsa Amini faced torture, abuse before police custody death: Cousin

Mahsa Amini faced torture, abuse before police custody death: Cousin
  • ‘By the time she reached hospital she was already dead from a medical point of view’

LONDON: Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old woman whose death in police custody has sparked nationwide protests in Iran, faced torture and psychological abuse before dying, her cousin told Sky News in an exclusive interview.
Erfan Mortezaei, a political activist and Kurdish fighter based in Iraq, told Sky News that Amini had become the “voice of the anger of the Iranian people,” urging the international community to respond appropriately to the regime in Tehran.
In the lead-up to her death on Sept. 16, Amini had been shopping in Tehran with family. Mortezaei said a confrontation occurred with local morality police: “When they saw Mahsa and others they decided her hijab was not correct. Ashkan (Amini’s brother) tried to explain to them they were not in their home city, and were strangers in Tehran, so asked to please take that into consideration and pleaded not to be taken away.
“In the struggle the police officers pepper-sprayed Ashkan in the face and forced Mahsa into the van and took her to the morality police station.” He added: “During the journey to the police station she was tortured and insulted.”
Mortezaei said the physical toll of the torture inflicted during the journey caused Amini to lose her vision and pass out, with an ambulance taking 90 minutes to transport her to a local hospital.
“There is a report from Kasra hospital that says effectively by the time she reached the hospital she was already dead from a medical point of view. She suffered a concussion from a blow to the head,” he added.
Mortezaei said his family had been pressured by regime officials to appear on state TV to deny their claims of torture and abuse. 
But steps by the regime to curtail public anger failed, with “Mahsa’s death becoming a spark for this protest movement across Iran and Kurdistan.”
President Ebrahim Raisi said Iran must “deal decisively with those who oppose the country’s security and tranquility.”
The country’s police chief Hossein Ashtari also sent out a public message warning against demonstrations.


Egyptian controversial cleric revered by Muslim Brotherhood dies at 96

Egyptian controversial cleric revered by Muslim Brotherhood dies at 96
Updated 38 min 18 sec ago

Egyptian controversial cleric revered by Muslim Brotherhood dies at 96

Egyptian controversial cleric revered by Muslim Brotherhood dies at 96

DUBAI: Youssef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian controversial cleric who was seen as the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood group, has died at the age of 96, his official website said Monday. 

He died in Qatar, where he had been living in exile since 2013. Al-Qaradawi had been tried and sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt. 


Germany summons Iranian ambassador for talks on protests

Germany summons Iranian ambassador for talks on protests
Updated 36 min 45 sec ago

Germany summons Iranian ambassador for talks on protests

Germany summons Iranian ambassador for talks on protests

BERLIN: Germany summoned the Iranian ambassador in Berlin on Monday over a crackdown on nationwide protests that were sparked by the death of a woman in custody, a German foreign ministry spokesperson said.
Asked about the possibility of further sanctions on Tehran in response to the unrest, the spokesperson said “we will consider all options” with other European Union states.
Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s morality police over allegations of abuse of Iranian women, saying it held the unit responsible for the death of the 22-year-old in custody.