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Iraqi Marshes

Iraqi Marshes
Photo 1: Iraqi Marshlands, Dhi Qar, Iraq (Source: Hussein Raheem, Flickr).


  • Authors: Paolo Mastrocola is a water resources management engineer; he has been working in Iraq for the last 10 years providing consultancy services to both governmental and non governmental organizations. He was involved in the New Eden Master Plan for marshlands restoration developed by Nature Iraq NGO and in the Water Resources Master Plan recently completed by the Ministry of Water Resources.
  • Peer Reviewer: Paolo Polo, Water Resources Management, Hydro Nova LLC.


The Iraqi Marshes are located in the lower Mesopotamian basin, in the vast floodplain wetlands created by the Tigris-Euphrates river system. The marshlands used to be the largest wetland ecosystem in Western Eurasia, representing a rare aquatic landscape in the desert and providing a habitat for important populations of wildlife. The marshlands form a triangular region bounded by three of the largest cities in southern Iraq: Nasiriyah to the west, Amarah to the north-east and Basra to the south. The inhabitants of the marshlands are known as Marsh Arabs.

Downstream of the capital Baghdad, approximately 500 kilometres from the head of the Persian Gulf, the very weak longitudinal slope of the land causes the two great rivers to meander and split into multiple branches, creating a chain of almost interconnected shallow freshwater lakes, marshes and seasonally inundated floodplains that typically overflow and merge into larger complexes during periods of high floods.

The average depth of water in the marshland is between 0.5 metres in the dry season and 2 metres in the wet season, and may be several metres deep in the permanent lakes. The Iraqi Marshes encompass three distinct areas: Hawizeh Marsh; Central Marsh, which formally includes Abu Zirig Marsh; and Hammar Marsh (Map 1). Current settlements and activities within and adjacent to the marshes include villages and towns, agricultural areas and oilfields.

Iraqi Marshes
Map 1: Location of the Iraqi Marshlands and the three distinct areas they encompass.