Twenty four people have been killed without provocation in Iraq. And it's all America's fault.
Gunmen have dragged 24 people, mostly teenage students, from their vehicles and shot them dead in the latest wave of violence in Iraq. As Iraqi leaders appeared deadlocked overnight on naming new interior and defence ministers seen as critical to restoring stability, the relentless killings continued.
Police said gunmen manning a makeshift checkpoint near Udhaim, 120km north of Baghdad, stopped cars approaching the small town and killed the passengers. The victims included youths of around 15 and 16 years old, who were on their way to the bigger regional town of Baquba for end of term exams, and also elderly men, they said. "(The attackers) dragged them one by one from their cars and executed them," said a police official. The killings took place in Diyala province, scene of frequent attacks by insurgents waging a campaign of bombings and shootings to topple the US-backed, Shiite-led government.
Actually, there was provocation. American provocation. If the government weren't US-backed or Shiite-led it wouldn't have happened. The Shi'ites make up the majority of the population in Iraq. But that's nothing to the point because "everyone" knows democracy isn't meant for Arabs so that's irrelevant. Anyway none of it would have happened if America hadn't invaded Iraq. People didn't die when Saddam was in charge. What's that you say about of hundreds of thousands killed by Saddam as described in his trial? Saddam's on trial? You don't say. But why would you notice, since the story is on page 53 alongside the account of an Elks Club reunion in Minneapolis. That's probably where the story of these 24 dead teenagers is going to wind up.
But to be fair not every story about the Iraqi Quagmire goes on page 1. This story about a real swamp, for example is probably going to wind up on page 54.
Reflooding of Iraq's destroyed Mesopotamian marshes since 2003 has resulted in a "remarkable rate of reestablishment" of native invertebrates, plants, fish, and birds, according to an article in the June issue of BioScience. Curtis J. Richardson of Duke University and Najah A. Hussain of the University of Basrah, writing about fieldwork conducted over the past two years in four large marshes in southern Iraq, note that water inflow from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers has been greater than expected because of record snowpack melts, which has kept salinity levels low. The incoming water quality has been better than predicted, too, with toxin levels lower than had been feared. As a result, many native species have returned, including some rare bird species, although their numbers have not rebounded to historical levels. Iraq's marshes were devastated in the 1980s and 1990s by the Hussein regime's campaign to ditch, dike, drain, and burn them. Unable to pursue their traditional means of livelihood--fishing, herding water buffalo, and hunting--tens of thousands of Marsh Arabs fled to southern Iran.
The Harvard Design School manages to describe these marshes, their destruction and historical importance, without once mentioning Saddam Hussein.
The Mesopotamian Marshes, located between the Tigres and Euphrates Rivers in southern Iraq, were historically one of the world's most important wetland environments. The area of once over 20,000 square kilometers—thought by some to be the original Garden of Eden—provided habitat for millions of migrating birds and has been inhabited since the time of the Sumerians by thousands of people living on artificial islands of mud and reeds and depending on sustainable fishing and farming. Since the early 1990s, however, this important ecological and unique cultural jewel has been devastated by a series of thoughtless dam constructions and deliberate water diversions that has led to what many have come to regard as one of the most severe “ecocides” in human history. At the same time as the wetlands were being destroyed, the 5,000-year old way of life of the marsh dwellers was all but erased. During the last year, thousands of items of news coverage around the world have introduced and kept the topic of restoring the Mesopotamian Marshes alive in the public eye. Understood by all is the need to design and sustain an environmental restoration endeavor that balances the desire for maintaining traditional lifestyles within the longer context of modern development.
One of the most important and precious habitats in the world, including the possible site of the Garden of Eden destroyed in a fit of absentmindedness. Did anyone get the number of that truck? Nowhere in the article do we discover who was behind the "series of thoughtless dam constructions and deliberate water diversions" alluded to here. The environmental position paper Threats to the Environment Posed by the War in Iraq presumably would have revealed the name of the culprit, but again he/she is never mentioned. Only threats of war from imperialist powers loom menacingly over the pristine environment.
"It was the heart-rending image of an oiled bird that became a symbol of the environmental impact of the first Gulf War. BirdLife International hopes that images of oiled birds do not once again fill our television screens in 2003", said Dr Rands.
Before their near-total destruction between 1991 and 2002, the 15,000km2 Mesopotamian marshlands formed one of the most extensive wetland ecosystems in western Eurasia. It comprised a complex of interconnected freshwater lakes, marshes and inundated floodplains following the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, extending from Baghdad in the north to Basra in the south. Approximately 50km2 may remain. These remnants would have the potential to help restore the marshlands.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report The Mesopotamian Marshlands shows that destruction of the marshes in the 1990s had a devastating effect on wildlife and people, "with significant implications to global biodiversity from Siberia to southern Africa ... Mammals and fish that existed only in the marshlands are now considered extinct. Coastal fisheries in the northern Gulf, dependent on the marshlands for spawning grounds, have also experienced a sharp decline." A sub-species of Otter and the Bandicoot Rat are also believed to have become extinct .
The impact of this destruction has also deprived the indigenous Ma'dan people who have lived in these marshes for 5,000 years, pursuing a sustainable way of life based on the abundant fish and wildlife living in the wetlands, of their traditional homeland. These marshlands were also important spawning grounds for a multi-million dollar shrimp fishery in the Arabian Gulf and also provided 60% of fish eaten in Iraq. Most of Iraq's rice, sugarcane and Water Buffalo used to be reared in the marshlands.
They were also heavily degraded by the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Much of the fighting took place in and around these wetlands resulting in extensive burning, heavy bombing and the widespread use of napalm and chemical weapons. A new war in Iraq could lead to their final destruction.
Does anyone remember who opened the valves to flood the waterways with oil in Desert Storm? The one who caused the heart-rending image of an oiled bird? Help me because it's never mentioned in the environmental article, though it is implied that the environmental disaster was really caused by the decision to expel Saddam from Kuwait. And in a sense, that's correct. The destruction of the Marshes and the Marsh Arabs directly stemmed from the decision (wise as everyone now admits) to leave Saddam in power after Desert Storm. The BBC reported what happened to the Marshes and Marsh Arabs in 2003.
The Marsh Arabs, or Madan, saw their centuries-old way of life virtually destroyed under Saddam Hussein's regime. Many fled their remote homeland in the marshes of southern Iraq when the central government reasserted its authority across the country after uprisings following the 1991 Gulf War. In addition, massive government drainage schemes have turned the region from one of the world's most significant wetlands to a wasteland of cracked, salinated earth. Baroness Emma Nicholson, Chairman of the Amar Foundation, which provides aid to Marsh Arab refugees, believes they are the victims of genocide.
Saddam. Genocide? As Human Rights Watch wrote in 1992, America could have stopped it! Dang and double dang. By sending human rights observers into Iraq! (That's what they actually recommended at the time.) The remarkable 1992 HRW document narrates in great detail the horrible massacres perpetrated by Saddam against practically everbody. And get this. It happened before Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Over 100,000 Kurds and Shi'a who fled cities where the conflicts were particularly fierce remain displaced inside Iraq, and another 70,000 civilians are in refugee camps in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran. Despite the harsh life they lead in these camps or as displaced persons in rebel-held northern Iraq or in the southern marshes, they have not gone home because they are afraid or because their homes have been destroyed.
The Shi'a holy cities of Karbala and al-Najaf, from which many of these Iraqis fled, are today under tight military control and largely closed to independent observers who could monitor rights conditions. Religious life is sharply restricted. Many Shi'a institutions were destroyed or badly damaged during the suppression of the uprising, or subsequently demolished on the pretext of "modernizing" the cities. Hundreds of clerics and their aides were arrested after the uprisings and have not been released. Religious activities at the remaining institutions have been curtailed by the state.
Of all the Iraqis who have not returned to their cities since the uprising, the greatest number come from Kirkuk, a major oil-rich city that has been the subject of contention between Baghdad and the Kurds. There have been alarming reports that the homes of Kurds who fled the city following the uprising have been demolished or given to Arab families, as part of a long-standing government policy of promoting the settlement of Arabs in Kirkuk while reducing its Kurdish population. The extent of these measures has been difficult to confirm, partly because the government has kept the city under particularly tight control. Today, Kirkuk is the only city in Iraq for which Baghdad has refused a standing U.N. request to establish a humanitarian office, and few outsiders have been given the sort of access that would enable them to assess developments there.
In the remote marshes along the southern border with Iran, thousands of Shi'a who fled during the uprising lack adequate food, hygiene and medical care and are at risk of Iraqi military operations in the area. Their numbers include active rebels, army deserters and displaced persons afraid to go home. Iraqi troops have attempted to surround and impose a blockade on areas where there has been rebel activity. There were credible reports of intensified military activity in the area as recently as late April; Shi'a opposition sources have charged that past army attacks in the marshes, including a campaign during December and January, involved indiscriminate fire from helicopter gunships and heavy artillery, summary executions, and arrests of indigenous marsh dwellers suspected of assisting the rebels. Little is known with certainty about the numbers or magnitude of the military operations, due in part to Iraq's refusal to allow independent observers meaningful access to the area. There has been almost no international pressure for such access; unlike the Kurds, the indigenous and displaced population in the marshes has been virtually ignored by the world community.
The establishment of a rebel-held zone in northeast Iraq under some measure of Allied protection has put most of Iraq's Kurdish population temporarily beyond the reach of the Baath regime. The population of this zone currently includes at least 100,000 displaced civilians from south of the Iraqi-Kurdish front line and scores of thousands of Kurds who are rebuilding homes in ancestral villages that were demolished in the 1970s and 1980s by the Baath regime.
Human Rights Watch wrote that? At the time they wanted it on page one. Now they probably want it on page 53.