January 18, 2011 | David F. Coppedge

Encouraging News About Iraq’s Marshes

Over seven years ago (05/01/2003), we reported on the devastation of Iraq’s ancient southern marshes by Saddam Hussein.  Azzam Alwash, an Iraqi who fled Hussein’s regime, had organized “Eden Again,” a project to try to restore the marshes after Hussein’s diversion of the rivers turned the lush ecosystem into a desert.  The extent of this “crime against humanity” (adding more ecological terror to Saddam’s earlier burning of the Kuwaiti oil fields) made such a vast restoration project appear hopeless.
    Readers who recall that report, and the subsequent encouraging updates in 02/18/2005 and 06/06/2006 will be thrilled to watch encouraging videos posted by the BBC News.  The first clip is about a search for the marbled teal, a bird not seen for 20 years, that has made a remarkable comeback.  In another BBC News video, Alwash is clearly excited about the prospects for restoring the marshes, if not to their former glory (since dams upstream in Turkey prevent the natural spring floods), at least in a form that allows them to be enjoyed for future generations.  In fact, he envisions the area as the first national park in Iraq.  The wildlife and birds would be the main draw – as well as the history of this land as the birthplace of civilization: nearby is the ancient site of Ur.
    There are still political problems in the area.  The video shows dangers the film crew faced threading the needle between warring tribes.  But if a national park is established, income from tourism could lead to a peace dividend as the native tribes gain from the world’s interest in this unique habitat.
    The end of the first video shows hunters taking out some of the teal to use for food.  Rather than being horrified, and rushing over to stop them, Alwash acknowledged man’s needs in the ecosystem.  The narrator says, “But Azzam knows that a balance has to be struck between the needs of the wildlife and the needs of the marsh Arabs.”  Alwash explained that his team was not going to go in there and prevent people from hunting and fishing.  “It’s their land, it’s their area,” he said.  “….The fact is, the marshes need to be restored, but they need to be restored for the people – not for nature per se.  Both can benefit from this.
Update 01/19/2011: In Science magazine 01/14/2011,1 Andrew Lawler examined the evidence whether civilization sprang from the Iraq marshlands.  Jennifer Pournelle of the University of South Carolina has been accumulating evidence that people first started settling the high ground in the marshlands before the cities were founded.


1.  Andrew Lawler, “Archaeology: Did the First Cities Grow From Marshes?”, Science, 14 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6014 p. 141, DOI: 10.1126/science.331.6014.141.

What is “nature per se” from an evolutionary world view?  Either humans are part of nature, or they are not (07/27/2010).  An evolutionist has no ground on which to declare that hunters and fishermen, or even dictators like Saddam Hussein, “should not” interrupt nature, because nature includes humans.  Only the Christian world view provides the grounds for making man distinct from nature as well as part of it, because the Bible describes man created in the image of God – a spiritual, rational, moral being.  The angst of people over the destruction of nature, and the joy over its beauty, echoes that image that still resides, though corrupted by sin, in the human heart.
    The videos err in calling this the place of the Garden of Eden.  That site was lost during the Flood.  It is, however, the site of important developments after the Flood.  The Tower of Babel was in the Tigris-Euphrates region, and Ur is one of the birthplaces of cities, writing and agriculture – rationally designed phenomena that sprang up quickly in many areas along the Fertile Crescent as tribes separated by the confusion of tongues created settlements where they could.
    Ur was also the first totalitarian regime – a brutal dictatorial society that assigned people into castes, some as slaves to work the land while others enriched themselves.  Before long, Sargon of Akkad began his quest for empire: leading to millennia of the rise and fall of middle eastern empires.  Into this region God first began a lineage of people, starting with Abraham, that would receive His word, obey it (more or less), and receive the promised Messiah, who would one day come to offer his life a ransom for the sins of mankind.  Readers are encouraged to visualize that world through Jon Saboe’s historical novel The Days of Peleg (see Resource of the Week for 11/07/2009, and also the book’s website).
    This entry flows into the next about political corruption.  It is a case study in the need for political leaders who fear God, have personal integrity, love creation, and respect human rights.  Alwash could never have pulled off this restoration under Hussein.  He had to flee to America to organize the effort.  It was America that created the world’s first national park in 1872, setting a path that the world would follow.  Countries that recognize human rights “endowed by their Creator” and respect the “laws of nature and nature’s God” are the only ones in a fallen world of sinners likely to work for, and cherish, the sight of thousands of marbled teals reaching for the skies.
    Now if we can just get the environmentalists as fired up about the genocides against Christians in Iraq as they are about the birds, we’ll really see a peace dividend (see Fox News).

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