Iraq war changes Tigris from river of life into river of death

Pollution in the Tigris, dead bodyThe United Nations report:

Tigris River becoming a graveyard of bodies

Report, IRIN, 10 May 2007

BAGHDAD – The River Tigris has long been a symbol of prosperity in Iraq but since the US-led invasion in 2003, this amazing watercourse has turned into a graveyard of bodies.

In addition, the water level is decreasing as pollution increases, say environmentalists.

Pollution in the river is caused by oil derivatives and industrial waste as well as Iraqi and US military waste, they say.

The river was one of the main sources of water, food, transport and recreation for the local population but after four years of war and pollution, it has been transformed into a stagnant sewer, according to environmentalists.

Fishermen are prohibited from fishing where the river passes through the capital and all vessels are banned in the area.

“The situation is critical. The river is gradually being destroyed and there are no projects to prevent its destruction,” said Professor Ratib Mufid, an environment expert at Baghdad University.

“A large part of the river has been turned into a military area, forcing families to leave their homes around the riverbanks and close restaurants.

Fishermen are prohibited from fishing where the river passes through the capital and all vessels are banned in the area,” Mufid said.

The river is contaminated with war waste and toxins, and residents of the impoverished Sadr City suburb are often left with no alternative but to drink contaminated water from the Tigris.

This is why, specialists say, many Sadr City residents are plagued by diarrhea and suffer from recurring kidney stones.

In the hot dry summer months, when the water level drops, mud islands can be seen, and water levels appear to be decreasing every year.

“The problem of decreasing water flow starts in Turkey’s Taurus mountains. Between there and Kurdistan, many dams have been built which help to decrease the water flow.

The idea [of dam-building] was to prevent floods which over the years affected northern communities, but the consequence can now be seen with nearly half the previous water flow,” Seif Barakah, media officer for the Ministry of Environment, said.

Ban on shipping, fishing

Military forces have banned shipping and fishing in the river, and many families who depend for their income on fishing have been deprived of their means of survival.

Dead bodies

Every day local police haul bodies from the Tigris bearing signs of torture. Locals who live near the river constantly see floating bodies.

The situation is even worse in Suwayrah, a southern area of the capital, where the government has built barriers with huge iron nets to trap plants and garbage dropped in the river but now this is also a barrier for bodies.

“Since January 2006 at least 800 bodies have been dragged from those iron nets, and this figure does not include those collected from the central section of the river.

Most of the bodies are unidentified and buried without family claims,” said Col Abdel-Waheed Azzam, a senior officer in the investigation department of the Ministry of Interior.

According to Azzam, 90 percent of the bodies found in the river show signs of serious torture.

“Because of the state of the bodies, it is not useful to try to have an autopsy done, and if the bodies are not claimed within 24 hours they are automatically buried,” he said.

Highly polluted

During Saddam Hussein’s regime people caught dumping garbage in the river were punished, but today mountains of rubbish can be seen on the riverbanks; and these affect the normal watercourse and pollute the area.

“With dams decreasing the water flow, the salt level rises and in conjunction with the high level of pollutants dumped in the river by northern cities, this reduces oxygen levels, making an unpropitious environment for any living being,” Barakah said.

Fishermen said that years ago it was easy to catch a fish in the river but today even if you use nets it is practically impossible to catch a fish and many can be found floating, having died of pollution and lack of oxygen.

“Today, the only fish you can catch are those floating and which died from pollution after ingesting toxic waste and eating rubbish,” said Ateif Fahi, 56, a fisherman in the capital, Baghdad.

See also here.

18 thoughts on “Iraq war changes Tigris from river of life into river of death

  1. Somewhat off the topic. I saw a Dutch Film, the English title of which was “Black Book”. It was about the Dutch Resistance to Nazi occupation. I liked it, but I was also struck by the parallels to the occupation of Iraq, particularly during the torture scenes, where Dutch fighters are tortured, using methods also employed at Abu Ghraib. I was wondering if you were familiar with this film, and if you had anything to say about it. Thanks for your posts. I have been working so much, that I haven’t had time to start a new blog. I barely have time to think about something besides work. That makes your work, and that of other bloggers, even more valuable to me. I like to take a few minutes every day, and see what you all are saying.


  2. Hi Jon, thanks so much for your comments which I appreciate. As for the film “Black Book”, I did not see it, so I cannot really judge it. Some of the reviews which I read criticized the film for more or less making resistance and nazis morally equivalent. Its director, Paul Verhoeven, has a reputation as somewhat of a cynic. All the best to you.


  3. Rotting bodies spoil Baghdad’s taste for river fish

    By Seif Fouad

    4:55 a.m. July 10, 2007

    BAGHDAD – River fish are off the menu in Baghdad.

    Dead bodies frequently pulled from the River Tigris have dulled the Iraqi capital’s appetite for Masqouf, its popular dish of grilled carp, after clerics reportedly warned that the fish dined on rotting corpses.

    ‘They spread rumors about the fish, that they eat the bodies of drowned people, but this is just a rumor,’ said Hussein Ahmed, a 62-year-old fisherman, after setting his nets within sight of the heavily fortified Green Zone compound on the banks of the Tigris.

    Scores of corpses turn up every week in Baghdad, victims of unrelenting violence between majority Shi’ites and minority Sunni Arabs that is pushing Iraq to the brink of all-out civil war.

    Many are dumped in the Tigris, which flows through the heart of the city and was once lined with restaurants specialising in the Masqouf that people loved to eat on a Friday night.

    Most riverfront eateries closed long ago, magnets for insurgent bomb attacks that are part of life in Baghdad since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

    The fishermen who have relied on the Tigris for generations can still be seen casting nets beneath the city’s bridges and beside the river’s reed beds and sandbars.

    But these natural fish feeding points also snag floating corpses, and Baghdad’s river fishermen know the war has tainted their livelihoods as well.

    ‘People have started to leave the fish of the river because of the bodies … the trade of fish has been totally changed,’ said Yassir al-Qurayshi, 36, at a fish stall in the upscale Karrada neighbourhood of central Baghdad.

    A fatwa, or religious edict, forbidding Iraqis to eat fish from the Tigris was reported by Iraqi media recently, but tracing its original source has been tricky.

    Prominent Shi’ite clerics in the holy southern city of Najaf on Tuesday denied any knowledge of the edict. Officials from the government office representing powerful Sunni imams who run Iraq’s Sunni mosques were not immediately available for comment.

    Many residents in Baghdad have turned to healthy looking carp such as those flapping in the shallow water of a display tank on one street. Each weighs around one kilo (2.2 lbs). Nearby, a man grills racks of them above a log fire.

    Such fish have been farmed in a freshwater pond well away from the muddy water of the Tigris.

    ‘This new (fatwa) forbidding the fish of rivers, because the rivers contain bodies, really affects the market and now we just eat fish from ponds,’ said Saifaddin, a local customer.

    Rotting corpses are not the only thing to have affected the river fishing since the war.

    ‘People have started fishing using electricity and explosions, so people don’t like fish from the river any more. They prefer fish from the ponds,’ said Qurayshi.


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