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UNESCO Saves Iraq’s Marshlands by Naming them World Heritage Site | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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An Iraqi man gets off a boat on July 14, 2016 in the Ahwar area in the southern Maysan province — also known as the Iraqi Marshlands — one of the world’s largest inland delta systems. AFP

Baghdad-Before UNESCO took its decision to add Iraqi Marshlands and historic sites to the World Heritage List, these water surfaces, which were the preferred destination for lovers and poets, used to conserve many types of birds and fish and to be surrounded by cane plants.

During the Iraqi-Iranian conflict that turned into a fierce war (1980-1988), Saddam Hussein decided to drain those surfaces because they were used by his enemies.

Following the fall of Hussein, these water surfaces were politically exploited by three countries: Iraq, Turkey, and Iran, and water resumed to flow in Ahwar region located on Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

While Turkey didn’t respect agreements it had inked with successive Iraqi governments concerning the Iraqi share of water from both rivers, some regions of Ahwar are common between the two countries which causes constant problems despite the improvement in Iraqi-Turkish political relations.

As part of Iraq’s efforts over the past seven years to put Ahwar and other Iraqi historic sites on the World Heritage List, UNESCO has decided to approve and to add them to the list.

Iraq now enjoys eight sites on the list including Erbil Castle and Samarra.

The Ahwar is a group of water surfaces which cover the low lands situated in the north of the Iraqi plain. Arab ancestors called this region “Bataeh” because their water runs and expands. Ahwar comprises three governorates -Maysan, Dhi Qar, and Basra – its residents live in small natural or artificial islands and use small boats in their transportation.

Ahwar is considered a good source of food supplies like fish, poultry, and agricultural products that require large amounts of water like rice and sugar cane.

In this context, Minister of Tourism and Antiquities Adel al-Shershab told Asharq Al-Awsat that his country’s effort to include historical sites on the World Heritage List has eventually succeeded and has been approved by 21 countries.

Shershab greeted countries that helped Iraq achieve this goal, including Turkey and Iran, and denied any conflict with them. The minister noted that the consideration of these areas as a World Heritage Site is an acknowledgment of their importance, and that the government considers it a valuable message from the world in support of Iraq.

Shershab pointed that the world is now a partner in protecting these sites from any attack and in maintaining them, and that the Iraqi government has trained the national personnel on coping with this important development.

Salim al-Jabbouri, speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, called the specialized parliamentary committee to draft a law that recommends the government to protect Al-Ahwar, and to allocate the sufficient budget to activate tourism, repair damages, protect the site, and take the needed measures to maintain it.

Saad al-Badri, member of Dhi Qar’s municipal council, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the area’s naming as a world heritage site is a good start for tourism. He said the municipality is seeking to transform it into an investment opportunity.