Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Marsh Arabs look to revive way of life in post-Saddam Iraq

For an article in the October 2006 edition of Smithsonian magazine, Joshua Hammer, traveled with a unit of British soldiers to southern Iraq, to the area between the cities of An Nasiriyah and Basra, to document efforts to help the region’s “Marsh Arabs.”

With helicopter carrying Hammer now touched down in a muddy field, he writes: “A few moments later, two dozen Iraqi men and boys from a nearby village, all dressed in dishdashas – gray traditional robes – crowd around us. The first words out of their mouths are requests for mai, water. As Kelly Goodall, the British Army’s interpreter, hands out bottles of water, a young man shows me a rash on his neck and asks if I have anything for it. ‘It comes from drinking the water in the marshes,’ he tells me. ‘It isn't clean.’”

The villagers tell Hammer that 1991 was the last time there had been a helicopter in the area. As the article notes: “That was when Saddam sent his gunships into the wetlands to hunt down Shiite rebels and to strafe and bomb the Marsh Arabs who had supported them.” They continue to tell their story. “We came back from An Nasiriyah and Basra after the fall of Saddam, because people said it was better to go back to the marshes,” the village chief, Khathem Hashim Habib said.

Still, several years after village reconstruction, roads are unpaved, and there is no electricity, no schools and no medicine. Getting to the nearest market takes an hour by truck, and this is only possible in the absence of floodwaters.

There has been little help from the government, Habib says. “The officials in Basra and Nasiriyah know that we’re here, but help isn't coming,” he told a British officer.

For the full article, click here.

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