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.


100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll
Updated 27 September 2022

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

100 dead in Lebanon migrant shipwreck off Syria: new toll

DAMASCUS: Syrian authorities have recovered 100 bodies from a Lebanese migrant boat that sank off Syria last week, state media reported about one of the deadliest recent shipwrecks in the eastern Mediterranean.
The first bodies were found last Thursday and only 20 people were rescued out of as many as 150 passengers.
“The number of victims of the Lebanese boat has reached 100 people so far after another body was recovered from the sea,” Syria’s official news agency SANA on Monday quoted the head of Syrian ports Samer Kbrasli as saying.
All survivors have been discharged from hospital, SANA said.
Nearly three years of deep economic crisis have turned Lebanon into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees desperate to flee rising poverty via dangerous sea voyages.
Those aboard the ship that sailed from Lebanon’s impoverished northern city of Tripoli were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included children and elderly people, the United Nations said.
Lebanon hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s civil war and has been mired in a financial and economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi described the shipwreck as a “heart-wrenching tragedy.”
Since 2020, Lebanon has seen a spike in the number of migrants attempting the perilous crossing in jam-packed boats to reach Europe.
The UN children’s agency UNICEF said that 10 children appeared to be “among those who lost their lives,” adding that “years of political instability and economic crisis in Lebanon have pushed many children and families into poverty.”


Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests
Updated 27 September 2022

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests

Iranians outraged after TikToker shot dead in protests
  • Najafi was shot six times in the city of Karaj, receiving bullets in the face and neck

DUBAI: A funeral has been held for Hadis Najafi, a young Iranian woman who was shot dead by security forces during protests near Tehran.

Najafi was shot six times in the city of Karaj, and was hit by bullets in the face and neck, according to a report by Radio Farda.

Videos of Najafi's funeral has been circulated on social media as online users paid tribute to the 20-year-old.
She had earlier gone viral in a TikTok video where she was seen tying her hair and preparing to join the anti-government protests, which were sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the ‘morality police’ for breaching the strict Hijab rules.
At least 41 people have been killed as Iran continues to crack down on the nationwide demonstrations.


Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra
Updated 27 September 2022

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra

Algeria’s UN integration will develop with support, says FM Lamamra
  • Algiers seeks non-permanent seat on Security Council
  • Candidacy endorsed by African, Arab and Islamic bodies

LONDON: Algeria’s development remains on track and will continue with the support of UN member states, the country’s foreign minister Ramtane Lamamra said on Monday.

During his speech at the General Assembly Debate, Lamamra also reaffirmed his country’s push for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

“My country is a member of the UN, it celebrates this year the 60th anniversary of independence,” he said. “It resolutely pursues the process of building a new Algeria under the leadership of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.”

He continued: “My country reaffirms its compliance with the values and principles (of the UN) and its determination to revive the role of multilateral action in keeping international peace and security and the achievement of comprehensive, fair, and sustainable development.”

Lamamra outlined Algeria’s commitment to the principles of the UN charter ahead of elections scheduled for next June on membership in the Security Council.

“Algeria is aware of the magnitude of unprecedented challenges that arise at the international and regional levels,” he said.

“Therefore, it has submitted its candidacy for the position of non-permanent member of the Security Council, a candidacy endorsed by the African Union, the League of Arab States, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.”

Lamamra also confirmed Algeria would host an Arab Summit on Nov. 1 and 2, and that Algiers “aspired to make this event a crucial step in the joint Arab action, for an effective contribution of the Arab world to dealing with the current challenges on the regional and international scenes.”


UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places

UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places
Updated 27 September 2022

UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places

UAE lifts mandatory mask policy in indoor places
  • Masks are still mandatory in medical facilities, place of worship, and public transport
  • The new rules, effective from Sept. 28, waived social distancing between worshipers

DUBAI: UAE residents are no longer required to wear masks in indoor public places, in the country’s biggest ease of restrictions since the outbreak of COVID-19, the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) announced.

However, masks are still mandatory in medical facilities, place of worship, and public transport, officials said.
“Senior citizens and residents and people with chronic diseases are advised to continue wearing masks for their safety,” according to Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, NCEMA’s official spokesperson.
The new rules, effective from Sept. 28, also waived social distancing between worshipers, while keeping the mask policy in mosques and other places of worship.
Shortly after the COVID-19 outbreak, the UAE placed a stringent mask policy in indoor and outdoor places, imposing $815 (Dh3,000) fine on violators.
In February, authorities lifted the requirement to wear masks outdoors.
Face masks will also be optional in schools.
Under the new rules, the isolation period for COVID-19 positive cases has been reduced from 10 days to five. Close contacts are required to take a PCR test only if they display symptoms.


Iranian football legend Ali Karimi under fire for condemning Mahsa Amini’s death

Iranian football legend Ali Karimi under fire for condemning Mahsa Amini’s death
Updated 27 September 2022

Iranian football legend Ali Karimi under fire for condemning Mahsa Amini’s death

Iranian football legend Ali Karimi under fire for condemning Mahsa Amini’s death
  • Former captain of Iran’s national football team has capitalized on his wide social media following to voice support for protests

DUBAI: Iranian football legend Ali Karimi, known as the Asian Maradona and the Magician, has come under fire for his social media posts condemning the suspicious death of Mahsa Amini after being detained by Tehran’s morality police.

Karimi, former captain of Iran’s national football team, has capitalized on his wide social media following to voice support for demonstrations against the government after Amini’s death.

His critical comments have earned scorn and blame from politicians, and has been accused of being one of the leaders what they describe as “riots” and “sedition,” Radio Farda reported.

“Don’t be afraid of strong women. Maybe the day will come when they are your only army,” to football legend wrote on Twitter for his more than 450,000 followers.

The Dubai-based Karimi has nearly 12 million followers on Instagram, where he also extensively posts support for the protest actions as well as tips about safe virtual private networks for Iranians to use to bypass state Internet restrictions, which have intensified amid the protests.

Meanwhile, Iranian civil rights activist Hossein Ronaghi has claimed he was beaten by guards in Tehran’s Evin prison, in a report from Radio Farda.

Prison officers broke his leg during the beating, while Ronaghi’s mother said her son told her he had been injured by guards, journalist Masoud Kazemi posted in a tweet on September 25.

The arrest comes amid anti-government protests over the death of 22-year-old Amini after she was taken into custody by morality police for the alleged improper wearing of a hijab.