Legendary Iraqi marshes slowly on the mend

Despite certain, er, unfortunate events elsewhere in the country, one part of Iraq, subject to some of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein’s worst crimes, is experiencing a glimmer of hope. For years after the 1991 Gulf War, much of Hussein’s industrial machinery was turned toward a massive dam-building project that drained some 90 percent of the southern wetlands where Marsh Arabs had lived for more than 5,000 years. Aside from the human toll — hundreds of thousands of marshland inhabitants were displaced — it was an ecological catastrophe, destroying an area many call the cradle of Western civilization, periodically flooded by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and home to hundreds of fish and bird species. After Hussein was booted, residents tore down the dams and water began flooding back in — water a group of researchers now says is much cleaner than they expected. The researchers report in the latest issue of Science that the marshes are surprisingly resilient and that while full restoration is impossible, signs are positive that with enough water, much of their former glory could return.