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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iraq Devastates Marshes To Oust Fleeing Rebels

WASHINGTON -- The CIA says Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's "scorched earth" attack on insurgents has created an environmental disaster.


In a photographic report, the agency depicted how Hussein's campaign to drain and divert water and torch the remaining plant life in the southern marsh area has nearly turned the once-rich wetlands into a desert.


The efforts have left his opponents helpless, the agency reported.


"The dry and denuded areas remaining provide no sustenance or protection for the insurgents," the Shi'ite rebels who fled there in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, the CIA report said.


The agency gave no numbers of those who may have perished because of the policy, which the CIA said included the burning of homes in the area.


One estimate circulated by the CIA claims over 100,000 of the 150,000 Shi'ites believed to have sought refuge in the AL'Amarah and Hawr al Hammar Marshes have been driven out, mainly across the border to Iran.


Iraq began drying out the swampland in 1991 by building an east-west dam and a canal on the northern edge of the area to block and divert waters from the Tigris river.


Baghdad has said it wanted to create more farmland.


The CIA said that by late 1993, about 10 percent of the roughly 2,000 square-mile marshland was covered by water. A 1972 satellite photo in the report showed that it was once nearly completely water-covered.


"For more than a millennium the wetlands near the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers have supported a unique way of life for permanent marsh dwellers and provided shelter for Beduoins, slaves, malcontents and opponents of central authorities in Baghdad," the CIA said.


Hussein acted after Shi'ites, buoyed by Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War, revolted in the south of Iraq. Iraqi forces put down the insurgency, driving the losers to seek a safe haven in the marshes.


The CIA said the draining and drying out of the swampland will divert runoffs into other waterways, deprive wildlife of their refuge and kill some species.