June 6, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

Update:  Iraq Marshlands Recovering Quicker Than Expected

How is south-central Iraq doing?  Recall that Saddam Hussein nearly obliterated, intentionally, one of the world’s premier wetlands (05/01/2003, 02/18/2005).  His fall from power enabled scientists to measure the damage and estimate hopes for recovery.  The outlook was pretty bleak at first.  Now, after two seasons of above-average rainfall upstream, fresh water has again been flooding large areas of the marshes.
    A team monitoring the recovery provided an update in BioScience.1  Their assessment is guarded optimism: about a third of the vast acreage is recovering better than expected, but there is a long way to go.  Many birds and indigenous species have been spotted, giving scientists hope of their return from near extinction.
    The main problems are lack of landscape connectivity between the reflooded areas, uncertainties about the sustainability of the freshwater sources, and doubts that the Marsh Arab culture will become re-established.  Many of those forced away may not return due to other opportunities, fear, uncertainty and other factors: the young, for instance, are being attracted to other ways of life.  It was not exactly the “Garden of Eden” lifestyle portrayed in the West, anyway: the paper states that warfare, rivalry and disease accompanied living in the region.

1Curtis J. Richardson and Najah H. Hussain, “ Restoring the Garden of Eden: An Ecological Assessment of the Marshes of Iraq,” BioScience, Volume 56, Number 6, June 2006, pp. 477-489(13).

Where are the activist environmentalists on this issue?  Have they forgotten that Saddam Hussein intentionally committed two of the worst acts of environmental terrorism in history, the burning of the Kuwaiti oil fields in the first gulf war, and the destruction of the Iraqi marshlands in the second?  Had not the international coalition under American leadership intervened in both cases, Saddam would have succeeded without consequence, and the land might never have recovered.  The dictator who machine-gunned civilians by the tens of thousands and bulldozed their bodies into mass graves now is getting some due process he denied his victims, while the land he ravaged has at least some hope of recovery.  Environmentalists tend to be predominantly leftist in ideology.  Can they at least give the two President Bushes a little credit here for taking the initiative, boldly, to do something about it?
    While saving the ecology was not the primary mission of either military action, it has been a tangible by-product.  As in other lands ravaged by dictators, the return of freedom has provided incalculable environmental hope for this vital region.  Sin cursed the original Garden of Eden and continues to curse the land wherever evil triumphs.  Some day, according to the Bible, only the Creator’s intervention will avail to “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18).  By then, a complete remake will be required by the Creator himself.  That does not mean, however, that we stewards should not work to conserve and fortify what we have now.

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