Iraqi environment minister faces armed attack, underfunding

Mishkat Al Moumin, head of Iraq’s Ministry of Environment since June, has an unenviable job. In August, an attack on her convoy left four of her bodyguards dead. Security concerns lead her to avoid having her picture taken or discussing her family. In a land ravaged by wars and repression, she’s confronted with refinery spills, potentially radioactive leftover ordnance, uncontrolled landfills, species loss, and arid land where Saddam Hussein drained wetlands in an area thought by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden. Her agency has 650 employees and a $17 million budget; the U.N. estimates that the agency needs $38.5 million simply to operate, much less undertake any projects. Bush asked Congress for $100 million to revive the Mesopotamian marshes between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but House Republicans turned him down. Nonetheless, in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, Moumin is resolutely optimistic: “I will be there for my people, without help or with it. So if I get the money, it is great. If I don’t get it, I will think in another direction.”