By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
"Tada — maps!” Suzie came in the door with an armful of cylinder cases. She had heard from the airport a few hours before and gone to pick them up. In the meantime, the Alwashes’ friend Ramadan had come by to help Azzam with logistics. Having been in the country more recently and maintaining more contacts there, Ramadan provides help that is vital for Azzam’s coming fieldwork.
They pored over the maps, selecting an itinerary, from Basra, north to the Al Hawizeh marsh on the Iranian border, down toward Nasiriyah, and then back to Basra, perhaps along one of the canals. Ramadan tried to anticipate problems and dangers, and there was a lot of animated conversation, switching between English and Arabic, about Ramadan’s cousins, where to get a boat and who might be in what department at Al Basrah University. One excited exchange in Arabic ended with Ramadan flashing his hands, and concluding in English: “Okay, my friend. I hook you up direct.
“And, by the way, you need a satellite phone.”
“That’s right here on our plan,” Suzie chimed in. She pulled out a napkin covered with lists and boxes and arrows and check marks. There it was written: “satellite phone,” alongside items like “digital camera,” “GPS,” “laptop,” “desert boots” and “vaccinations.”
Yet, they all understand that even perfect preparation won’t smooth the road ahead entirely. Even with the technical issues sorted out and a well-designed rehabilitation strategy in place for November, larger problems loom. Recent dams and development in neighboring countries have already reduced Iraq’s water supply significantly. And it’s a region where politics runs through riverbeds, and Azzam noted that tomorrow Turkey could keep the entire Euphrates all to itself — using only one of its mega-dams. Should enough water flow, the region then faces the poison triangle that afflicts its hydrology: salinization, sedimentation, and contamination, from agricultural and industrial chemicals to “urban effluent,” which is to say raw, untreated sewage from every city upstream along the 10,000 miles of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
That’s the water — “and then there’s oil,” as Azzam wryly remarked. Unfortunately for the marshes, they straddle a massive reserve; Saddam had already developed, in drained marshland (with the help of Russia and France), the second and third largest oil fields in the world. But Azzam has met with oil experts, “and they tell me the drilling can be done with a slight footprint, gradually, from platforms,” he offered hopefully. “They say it’s the most modern method.”
As with the coexistence of wetlands and oil exploitation, Azzam is wildly optimistic about the role of the marshes as a sort of cornerstone of the New Iraq. He suggests that the marshes could provide an opportunity to embark on regional water planning; to modernize the country’s agriculture with a water-saving irrigation system, perhaps imported from — gasp — Israel; and to build an environmental consciousness and constituency for preservation in Iraq, both of which are part of the civil-society institutions that are so important to democracy. Eventually he imagines the marshes as a draw for tourism in a stable, democratic country. And he would be the first customer. “I kayak with my family here in California,” he said, showing me a picture of him with his daughters out on the water one morning. “And I want to bring them to Iraq. I want to take my children to the marshes, like my father took me. That would be wonderful.”
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