CHABAISH, Iraq (AP) – In the southern marshlands of Iraq, Firas Fadl steers his boat through tunnels of towering reeds, past floating villages and half-submerged water buffaloes in a unique region that seems a world apart from the rest of the arid Middle East.
The marshes, a lush remnant of the cradle of civilization , were reborn after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein when residents dismantled dams he had built a decade earlier to drain the area in order root out Shiite rebels. But now the largest wetlands in the Middle East are imperiled again, by government mismanagement and new upstream projects.
ERBIL, Iraq — There are two ways to consider the imposing Erbil citadel, a huge mound 100 feet above the flat plain on which this city of one million sits.
One. The citadel is one of the oldest continuously occupied human settlements on earth, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and Kurdish officials have gone to great lengths to restore and preserve it despite a severe financial crisis.
The warren of alleyways in the old town had become overcrowded slums as the historic buildings crumbled from neglect, but in 2006, the authorities relocated the more than 500 families elsewhere, in what was one of the Middle East’s most ambitious preservation projects.
Two. Six thousand years or more of human civilization have come to this: In the citadel’s central square is a tall metal pole with a Kurdish flag the size of a boxcar.
We recently visited the Kurdish region of Iraq and, maybe because of news reports, it was nothing like we expected. It’s not Arab. It’s not a war-torn desert wasteland. It’s safe. It’s peaceful. It’s green and mountainous, graced with abundant waterfalls and hilly, fertile farmland. Plus, Arabs, Kurds and foreigners all vacation together. No wonder Iraqi Kurdistan has been called “The Other Iraq.”
Westerners have no idea what they are missing.
A little about the Kurds
The “cradle of civilization” gave birth to the Kurdish peoples, yet they still dream of their own nation. Their homeland has been occupied by various empires for millennia. Medes, Assyrians, Sumerians, Parthians, Persians and others have ruled over them. Now, they are separated by political borders, but whether they live in Iraq, Syria, Turkey or Iran, they always consider themselves Kurds first.
Most of these belong to the Assyrian Empire in Mesopotamia that covered most of Syria and Iraq, some even dating back to the second millennium.
The Islamic State on Wednesday destroyed an iconic 840-year-old mosque and its minaret in Mosul, continuing to leave its trail of destruction even as the push to oust the IS from the city has intensified.
The al-Nuri mosque, which is also known as Mosul’s Great Mosque, is where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a ‘Islamic Caliphate’ in 2014 shortly after Mosul was overrun by the militants. The minaret, called al-Hadba, which had a leaning look like that of Italy’s Tower of Pisa had stood for more than 840 years.
IS fighters initially attempted to destroy the minaret in July 2014.
UNESCO Director-General welcomes the liberation of Hatra and will send Emergency Assessment mission “as soon as possible”
Following several reports and discussions with the Iraqi authorities, UNESCO has confirmed the liberation of the archeological site of Hatra, located in the Governorate of Nineveh in Iraq.
The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has reiterated her support to the government and people of Iraq and expressed the readiness of UNESCO to help protect and promote Iraqi heritage as a force for national cohesion, peace and recovery for the country.
“The liberation of the ancient city of Hatra, a UNESCO world heritage site, is good news for Iraq and beyond. For two years, Hatra has been one of the symbols of the cultural cleansing plaguing the Middle East” declared the Director-General.
Dictators are colorful people, to put it mildly. It must be something about being constantly alone, maybe being a little paranoid all the time, or maybe they just get on a non-stop high from absolute power.
Hitler thought eating meat was abhorrent, but had no qualms about methamphetamine. Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier sent someone to collect the air around JFK’s grave so he could control the dead president’s soul. Muammar Qaddafi had a crush on Condoleezza Rice that rivals the one I have on Nicki Minaj.
It seems like every dictator has some bizarre personality quirks or aspirations that may seem out of character. And Saddam Hussein was no different.
1. He penned a best-selling romance novel.
The book, “Zabiba and the King,” was originally published anonymously in 2000.
Following several reports and discussions with the Iraqi authorities, UNESCO has confirmed the liberation of the archeological site of Hatra, located in the Governorate of Nineveh in Iraq. The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, has reiterated her support to the government and people of Iraq and expressed the readiness of UNESCO to help protect and promote Iraqi heritage as a force for national cohesion, peace and recovery for the country.
“The liberation of the ancient city of Hatra, a UNESCO world heritage site, is good news for Iraq and beyond. For two years, Hatra has been one of the symbols of the cultural cleansing plaguing the Middle East. The destruction and looting of the remains of the capital of the first Arab Kingdom, is an immense loss for the Iraqi people and the world. ” declared the Director-General.
Iraqi militiamen, who drove Islamic State fighters from the ancient city of Hatra this week, found that IS had destroyed relics dating back more than 2,000 years.
“The sculptures and engraved images are destroyed, but the walls and towers of the kingdom of Hatra remain standing,” said Marwa Rashid, a spokeswoman for Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, a Shi’ite militia that is clearing IS from villages north of Mosul in northern Iraq.
“There are many holes and scratches on the walls of the kingdom due to IS bullets,” she said.
PMF units took full control over the historic city, about 110 kilometers southwest of Mosul, after a three-week offensive. Its recapture was a part of a regional military operation known as Muhammad Prophet of God.
The full extent of destruction to Hatra, a historic UNESCO-listed site, is not yet known. The city’s liberation from the “Islamic State” is part of the battle by Iraqi forces to regain full control of Mosul.
Iraqi pro-government militias announced on Wednesday that they had wrested control of historic Hatra from radical Sunni “Islamic State” (IS) militants, who had previously inflicted grave damage to the ancient town’s walls, statues and buildings.
An official in Iraq’s Shiite parliamentary group stated that the US-backed “Popular Mobilization forces have managed today to liberate the town of Hatra after fierce battles with against [Islamic State].”
No details on potential causalities were provided.
Hatra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site founded in the 2nd or 3rd century B.C. and renowned for its temples, is located in the desert around 110 kilometers (68 miles) southwest of Mosul.
At least 18 sites within the 6,000 year old Erbil citadel have been restored and are now open to visitors.
Work on the UNESCO World Heritage site has been delayed due to the financial crisis.
Considered one of the oldest inhabited areas in the world, the citadel was home to 6,000 residents at its height. It has, however, suffered from decades of neglect and many of the houses were crumbling.
One of the attractions where visitors can now enter is the Citadel Antiquities, which is full of Kurdish traditional heritage items and relics.
The other sites now open to visitors include Guest Reception Center, Kurdish Traditional Clothing Museum, Citadel Great Mosque, Citadel Public Bath, Erbil Hand-made Carpets Center, Citadel Cultural Center, Mideast French Institute, Kurdish Waive and Knit Museum, Citadel Upper Gate, Erbil Museum for Rocks and Jewels, and the Citadel Main Commission Office.