Iraq completes canal 'to cow rebels'

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Iraq says it has completed the 'Mother of all Battles' irrigation canal, which Shia rebels say is designed to make southern regions more accessible to Saddam Hussein's army, AP reports from Cyprus. The state-run Iraqi News Agency said late on Saturday the Industry Minister, Hussein Kamel al-Majid, had informed President Saddam of the completion of the 65-mile waterway, from near Nasiriyah to Basra.

Ostensibly built for irrigation, the canal system has been condemned by Western human-rights groups because it seems designed to destroy the millennia-old habitat of the Marsh Arabs. By draining the southern marshes it makes the almost impenetrable area accessible to armoured divisions and helps Baghdad to crush the Shia rebels. And by diverting the Tigris and Euphrates rivers the canals are drying up vast tracts of marshlands and forcing tens of thousands of Shias from their homes.

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