The Middle East’s conservation warriors are diving to restore coral and boating to protect sharks in the Red Sea. But in the western Iraqi desert, where Al Qaeada operatives are active in a region called the “triangle of death”, Omar Fadhel and his team risk their life for birds.
Escorted by a galley of stalwart soldiers wearing bulletproof vests and some carrying assault rifles, Fadhel and 2 other conservationists trek to a region that is a safe haven for the lapwing, a rare bird.
The only Non Government Organization (NGO) doing regular field work in the region, according to Richard Solash, Nature Iraq receives funding from The US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and the Italian Environment Ministry.
Priorities in the combat zone
The Iraqi Environment Ministry, however, is less sympathetic to this work. “How can you go to the command center of the Iraqi police asking them to provide you with men — and these men will face the chance of fighting with Al-Qaeda just looking for a bird or doing environmental work?” Fadhel says to Solash. “This is a very, very unsuitable mission or task to make them understand what you are doing.”
Toppling Hussein’s Poor Environmental Policies
Fadhel’s work is important though. In Southern Iraq, the marshlands thought to be the biblical garden of Eden were almost completely destroyed under Saddam Hussein’s rule. Nature Iraq resuscitated half of them, despite constant military batterings, after the famous statue of Hussein came crumbling down.
The organization was founded by Azzam Alwash, who grew up in the region but left to study in the United States, writes Solash, but still faces numerous obstacles. Although he insists that Iraqis are aware of and respectful of nature, and that they’re not gun-wielding barbarians, he tells Solash that “Nature Iraq needs to refresh and rehabilitate the Iraqi environment and teach the people how to deal with wildlife instead of dealing with guns and weapons.”
Conservation in a nicely wooded park on happy lane is challenging enough, but protecting a rare bird in the midst of a potential enemy is something else. We think it’s something more akin to heroism.
:: images and story via Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty
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