Old Marsh footage shows peaceful idyll of Iraqi past

Old footage widely shared on Facebook of Iraq’s Marshes gives a glimpse into a past that evokes strong emotions in Iraq.

We see idyllic pictures of women paddling long canoes that hover near to the waterline as their men folk cast nets into the water. Great arched buildings stand as communal buildings and mosques- but made out of tightly bundled reeds rather than brick or stone. Reeds are the key ingredient of Marsh Arab life- yet the reeds, that provided shelter as well as a habitat for game, are now gone- or 90% of them are.

In the late 1980s, the regime of Saddam Hussein set out to drain the Marshes, a wetland area in south-east Iraq. Nearly a decade later, only 10 percent of the Marshes, which originally covered 20,000 square metres, remained. Before being drained, what was once one of the world’s great wetland areas was home of the Ma’dan, the Marsh Arabs, and had a unique ecosystem. A UN restoration programme has brought some wildlife and people back to the marshes but much remains to be done.

With 372,000 views on Facebook, the video evoked a near-unanimous reaction. A feeling of awe at the beauty of the Marshes prevailed with some likening the area to Venice. But others were also angry, not only at Saddam for decimating the Marshes but also at Iraqi politicians who came to power after the 2003 war. There is a widely held perception that successive governments since then have all failed to bring the wetland area back to what it was.

Mismanagement, corruption, squandering of resources are some of the criticism directed at the Iraqi government.

"They wasted billions of dollars in the failing water resources ministry and could only restore 10 percent of the marshes...all the work done was not carefully thought; there is neither accountability nor oversight. A country led by ignorant people is going nowhere," Ali Ahmed wrote.

 Kais al-Fartusi summed up a common sentiment--“those good old days full of prosperity are gone for ever”.