Iraq’s Once-Mighty Tigris River in Sad Shape

Iraq’s Tigris River is horrendously polluted and may be poisoning Iraqis, but no one is sure just how bad the problem is — the near-total lack of security is preventing environmental researchers from properly testing the water. The decline of the once-mighty Tigris, which flows through the so-called “cradle of civilization,” dates to the Iran-Iraq war in the early 1980s, which caused a massive diversion of state resources. It continued through the U.N. sanctions of the 1990s and was further exacerbated by the U.S. invasion and the subsequent looting, which left sewage facilities decimated. Now raw sewage, power-plant runoff, and medical waste flow uninhibited into the river, still used by many Iraqis for religious rituals, bathing, and drinking water. Researchers from the Iraqi Ministry of the Environment are attempting to gather samples to assess the river water, but are so far inhibited by Iraqi police, U.S. soldiers, and insurgents.