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EU Official Calls for Action Against Iraqi Leader's Destruction of Marshlands - 2002-09-30

The European Parliament's chief investigator on Iraq says U.N. peacekeepers should be sent immediately to save Iraq's historic southern marshlands. Emma Nicholson says Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been systematically destroying the marshlands for strategic military reasons.

Emma Nicholson has been studying the southern Iraqi marshlands, and the marsh Arabs who live there for several years.

She developed her interest in Iraq as a member of the European Parliament and the British House of Lords. She has made several clandestine trips to the region. She also is the founder of a British charity to assist Iraqi refugees.

Ms. Nicholson has co-edited a new book on the region, with contributions by Arab, American and world authorities on the human and environmental situation of the marshlands.

The book charges that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has been waging a campaign of murder, torture, rape and starvation of the Iraqi marsh Arabs.

Iraqi government authorities have made no public pronouncements on the book, which was released three weeks ago.

In a VOA interview, Ms. Nicholson said a U.N.-supported military force should be dispatched immediately to occupy the marshlands. "What could happen now is that a force should move in, a peacekeeping force. You do not need a war there, because there is virtually nobody there any longer. And [the force] could start to recover - under a U.N. peacekeeping force perhaps - could start to recover the marshlands," she said.

She says a priority should be the destruction of dams that have diverted water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers away from the marshlands, destroying an estimated 90 percent of the region's habitat.

Saddam Hussein ordered the marshlands drained when the local Shi'ite Muslim population revolted, with encouragement from the United States, in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War.

Ms. Nicholson says she wants a U.N. force to go into Iraq regardless of an eventual U.S.-led military action against Saddam Hussein. And she says that when and if Saddam Hussein is replaced, European officials are committed to reviving the marshlands. "The European Parliament believes fervently that the Iraqi marshlands should be restored, that the Iraqi marshlands should be declared a world heritage site, and that in rebuilding Iraq, we should take absolute priority in these deep south marshlands, because this is a world heritage, not just a local heritage, this is the original Garden of Eden," she said.

Earlier this year, Ms. Nicholson wrote a report for the European Parliament recommending that a special international criminal tribunal be established to prosecute Saddam Hussein and his officials. She also has called for the European Union to set up an office to gather evidence against the Iraqi leader.