Early in January, CMOC (Civil Military Operation Center) sponsored a Marshland Conference in Basra. In attendance were businesses leaders and scientists who have a stake in the Marsh. The keynote speaker,Dr. Mohammad Mossa Omran pointed out, “Birds don’t carry passports,” The loss of the Marshland is not only Iraq’s loss but also one for the global community.
At the conference I met Kassem Hawal, an Iraqi filmmaker who has what might be the only film footage of what the Marshland was like before Saddam destroyed it. He also has footage of the bulldozers filling the waterways. Kassem’s work was destroyed by Saddam’s regime, except one reel he recovered and restored. His camera work is stupendous: long steady shots of the marsh and its inhabitants including a wedding procession on the water. Kassem can be reached at www.kassemhawal.com
Also at the conference was director of Basra’s Natural History Museum, Prof. Dr. Khalat-Al- Rabaae, and Professor Sadek A. Hussein, an ichthyologist at Basra University and Dr. Mohammed Al-assadi, Dean of the Science College. The Natural History museum was bombed to the ground. One remaining specimen remains at the university. The director is hoping the coalition will help him build a new museum. The University has a small collection of natural history specimens left.
To visit the University took creative maneuvering. Military are not allowed on campus. A Sheik’s son, his translator and a bodyguard (nicknamed Pringles) escorted us. They joined in on a tour of the College of Agriculture, the home of the natural history collection. There is a room of fish with about twenty specimens, a room of instects and a room with a herborarium collection comprised of specimens collected by the schools dean. I met and inteviewed students and faculty. Some are studying invasive species, others, botany and molecular biology. They all do field work and shared images of the sites they have collected species in.
I plan to make it a trip to the Marshlands in the coming weeks and document the eco system and villages myself.
Images are all from Basra University’s School of Agriculture