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The marshes of Iraq are one Earth’s most important ecosystems but also one of the most endangered; however, information is difficult to obtain, not least because of the security situation in the country.

In a rare insight into the marshes, leading Iraqi environmentalist, Ahmed Saleh Neema, will be talking via Zoom about the challenges, both past and present, of trying to restore ecosystems within Iraq’s central marshes, including protecting the Maxwell’s Otter that had become virtually extinct.

Today, the main threat to the marshes are dam-building projects, mainly upstream in Turkey, while in the past they were heavily drained by Sadddam Hussein not only to increase agriculture but also because the Marsh Arabs, The Ma’dan, were sworn enemies of his regime largely on account of their Shiite religion making them closer to Iran and being separate: they lived traditionally in reed-houses on artificial islands amid the waters of the marshes, living by fishing, herding buffalo, cultivating rice and selling reed-mats.

Saddam’s engineers diverted almost the entire flow of the Euphrates into a large drainage canal, known as the Third River, which was connected to the sea; the Ma’dan’s armed opposition to Saddam was brutally put down in a series of tactical operations focused on Amara, displacing thousands of people.

Ahmed Saleh Neema has been working full-time over the last decade in Iraq’s central marshes (locally called Al-Kahla), having previously been employed at the Missan University’s Faculty of Administration and Economics in Amara. Ahmed says: ‘my environmental activity is due to my faith in the necessity of serving Nature’

Ahmed’s presentation will be part of the 2021 The Marjan-Marsh Award ceremony for which Ahmed is nominated; this award, organised by The Marjan Study Group in the Department of War Studies in partnership with the Marsh Charitable Trust, is given annually to someone or group that has made an invaluable contribution to an area where conflict and conservation overlap and is in its ninth year.

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Director of Programmes, The Marjan Study Group