Iraq 'poisons Marsh Arabs'

Mass exodus into Iran as Saddam assault threatens to destroy habitat

MASS poisoning has been added to Saddam Hussein's campaign of persecution against the Marsh Arabs in southern Iraq, according to a British governmental mission just returned from the region.

A team from the Overseas Development Administration (ODA), the first official aid organisation to visit the area in recent years, found evidence that the Marsh Arabs, much of whose ancient homeland has been drained by the Iraqi government, are being poisoned by chemicals put into their water supply by the authorities.

''I discovered symptoms of chronic long-term poisoning among many Iraqi women, young men and children,'' said Mukesh Kapila, a doctor who led the ODA mission to south-western Iran, where thousands of Iraqi refugees are seeking sanctuary. ''I also saw scars from bullets which people said had been fired by Iraqi soldiers. There is no doubt that what is happening to the Marsh Arabs in Iraq amounts to genocide.''

In recent years, up to half a million people are estimated to have fled the marshlands, the largest wetland ecosystem in the Middle East and home to the Marsh Arabs for nearly 5,000 years. According to an Exeter University report published this year, the marsh region - an area slightly smaller than Wales - will disappear within the next decade or so if the Iraqi government continues to drain it.

Already, between a half and three-quarters of the surface area has been drained by huge engineering works.

Iraq claims this is for ''agricultural purposes'', but most observers believe it is part of Saddam Hussein's campaign to crush Shia insurgents operating out of the marshes. Draining has allowed the Iraqis to penetrate Shia strongholds and use heavy artillery.

''The flood of Iraqis into Iran is fast becoming a crisis,'' warned Dr Kapila, who was invited by Iran to assess the humanitarian aid needs of the refugees in south-western Iran. ''At the main border crossing of Himmet we saw more than 3,000. The Iranian local authorities reckon there are another 20,000 waiting to cross and as many as a quarter of a million preparing to come into Iran over coming weeks.''

About 150,000 people, half of them Marsh Arabs, are believed to have fled into Iran from Iraq in the past two years, bringing the number of Iraqi refugees in Iran to about 650,000. About a third of these live in camps along Iran's western border. Although generous to Iraqi refugees in the past, Tehran now appears to be clamping down on the numbers coming across from Iraq.

''In addition to the Marsh Arabs, we saw many people from Baghdad and northern Iraq coming over the border,'' Dr Kapila said. ''There seems to be a rapid deterioration of conditions inside Iraq. Many reported the looting of food stores in the capital. People appear to be fleeing for economic as well as political reasons.''

Dr Kapila reports a high proportion of women and children among the Marsh Arabs crossing into Iran. He concludes that many of the menfolk have been captured or killed by the Iraqi army.

''Of the 3,000 people we saw stranded in no man's land, about half were children. Many were suffering from diarrhoea and dysentery. There is also a real danger of cholera.''

The ODA is considering more than pounds 1m of emergency assistance to Iraqi refugees in Iran. On Tuesday Baroness Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Development, is to present a first cheque of pounds 85,000 to the Conservative MP Emma Nicholson, founder of Assist Marsh Arabs and Refugees and chairwoman of the Iraq all-party committee in the Commons.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UX Consultant

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working with a 8 st...

Recruitment Genius: Part-time Editor

£8000 - £12000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Executive

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An exceptional opportunity has arisen for a pa...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen and Bathroom Installers

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of designer kitch...

Day In a Page

Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border