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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital