Military


Marsh

The 11th Infantry Division's 45th Infantry Brigade was reportedly deployed at the "Salayeen Marshes" but it is not possible to identify this location.

The Shatt el Arab ("Stream of the Arabs") delta has built up at the northern extremity of the Persian Gulf. The Shatt el Arab River that feeds it is only 180 km long and is formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which flow through central and eastern Iraq. It is navigable to Al Basrah, the chief port of Iraq. The marshlands north of Basrah above where the Euphrates and Tigris merge contained broad expanses of floating cane marsh and bullrush and are inhabited by a unique group of people, commonly referred to as the Marsh Arabs. As many as 100,000 "Marsh Arabs" used to live in the swampy region. The Ma'dan, or Marsh Arabs, lived in the marshes for thousands of years, building reed houses on artificial floating islands of reeds, moving around by boat, selling reed mats, and living on fish, water buffalo, and rice. For more than 1,000 years, the marshes - roughly 5,200 square kilometers in area - provided all the necessities of life for tens of thousands of Arab marsh dwellers.

During the Iran-Iraq war, the Iraqi military constructed causeways to move armored units and supplies more easily along the southern border area. This construction caused drying of the eastern third of the marshlands by the mid-to-late 1980s. For a long time, Iran-backed rebels used its waters as a safe haven. To put an end to their uprising, Saddam decided to drain the region. The result was an immense ecological and cultural tragedy. The Marsh Arabs had to flee to reservoirs in cities or across the Iranian border. Many of their villages were destroyed, and few inhabitants remain.

Since the Gulf war, Iraqi forces have dried and cleared most of Iraq's southern marshes in actions against the predominantly Shi'a Muslim Arabs living there. In the spring of 1991, a post-Gulf war Shi'a uprising engulfed much of southern Iraq. After Baghdad regained control of the major cities, some of the insurgents retreated to safe havens in the Al 'Amarah and Hawr al Hammar Marshes. Baghdad's strategy for dealing with this insurgency was to dry the southern wetlands through a large-scale water diversion project in an effort to remove the insurgents' cover and concealment. The greatest alterations have come in southeast Iraq, between the cities of Amara, Nassiriyah, and Basra. The 'Amara Marsh near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers has been most affected by the drainage scheme.

After the 1991 Shi'a uprising, the Baghdad regime undertook an ambitious effort to dry the entire region. With the completion of an east-west dam and a north-south canal, the major water supply to Al 'Amarah Marsh was cut off.

By the fall of 1993, very little standing water (less than 52 square kilometers) remained in the former marsh area and the marsh-drying program caused the evaporation of most surface water from the Hawr al Hammar and Al 'Amarah Marshes. The immediate effect of the loss of surface water was the widespread destruction of indigenous vegetation that required year-round standing water.

By 1993 the marshes sheltered 200,000 to 250,000 inhabitants - more than half Marsh Arabs; the rest various internally displaced persons and oppositionists. Today, nearly all are displaced - less than 10,000 Marsh Arabs still survive the regime's systematic destruction, bulldozing, and artillery bombardments, while thousands were secretly executed by Iraqi forces, including women and children.





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