Iraq possesses distinct characteristics that separates it from the rest of the world. A blend of old heritage that traces back to ancient Mesopotamia and numerous cultural and economic resources. The Mesopotamian Marshes or Iraqi Marshes that were once drained by Saddam Hussein’s regime were finally recognized by the UNESCO as a world heritage site. Historically called the Garden of Eden, al-Ahwar Marshes are wetlands located in Iraq’s southern region that have long been underrated and undervalued. UNESCO’s decision to enlist the marshes on the World Heritage list gives Iraqis something to celebrate after a dreadful month that witnessed the deadliest attack in years. But with the potential of becoming the Middle East’s new must-see resort for tourists to the region, rigorous supervision is required to preserve and protect the marshes.
Renowned for their unique features and natural qualities, and its fragrant smell of rice cultivation and sugarcane, the marshlands boast a marvelous environment with relatively mild winters and breath-taking views that resemble the natural beauty of Venice’s canals. Between Basra and Dhi Qar, Maysan and the Tigris and Euphrates, an estimated twenty-thousand kilometers; the inhabitants live on small islands bedded with dense forests of papyrus reeds. The marshlands comprise of three chief areas: The al-Hammer Marshes, located south of the Euphrates, the Central Marshes, located between the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers, and al-Hawizeh Marshes, located east of the Tigris. The marshes vary in depth and rest on immense oil wealth.
The Marsh Arabs or Ma’dan, who are believed to be descended from the Sumerians, are the inhabitants of the marshes. Ma’dan reside in traditional houses known as Sarifas constructed from reeds, and possess long, slim canoes known as a Mashuf. The Ma’dan’s main source of survival is fishing and herding water buffalo. In the marshes, traditional displays of generosity are never absent as guest hospitality is fundamental in Ma’dan culture. Visitors are hosted in communal guest houses known as Mudhif, as well as cultural chambers known as Diwan.
The marshes were exposed to the worst environmental crime committed by the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein in which he drained the marshes and scattered the inhabitants. The inhabitants migrated to the urban areas for survival. Agriculture could not survive the extreme drought conditions, and soon enough, palm trees perished. Post-2003 witnessed a significant recovery as water returned to nearly 65% of the marshlands. While the majority of the marshlands rejuvenated impressively, other areas continue to recover.
Once were a haven for rebels who revolted against Saddam’s tyrannical regime in 1991, the marshes have a unique place in the hearts and minds of Iraqis. They have become a symbol for courage and strength, carrying memories of resistance, sacrifice, and suffrage. The inhabitants of these regions have sacrificed their lives to defend Iraq in the past, and today, they are spearheading the fight against Daesh.
The inclusion of Iraq’s archaeological cities of Uruk and Ur, and the Tell Eridu archaeologic site, as well as four marshes on the World Heritage List means that UNESCO will be committed to providing technical and financial support to maintain these sites, safeguard them from any damage, further improve the environment, regulate water quotas, and allocate competent employees. UNESCO will also develop research studies addressing the dangers threatening these sites.
Through this global vote, it is an opportunity for Iraq to establish itself on the world stage by enhancing its tourism industry, as well as putting in place programs that promote the nation’s history, heritage, and culture. Tourism is likely to increase and become a means of generating revenue. By securing its territory and investing places like the marshes, tourism could one day equal oil revenue in a stable Iraq.