<figcaption> Credit: COURTESY OF CURTIS RICHARDSON</figcaption>

Duke University's Curtis J. Richardson, a wetlands expert, was part of the first scientific team to visit the Iraqi Mesopotamian marshes after Saddam Hussein's fall in 2003. Lying between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the marshes - once nearly twice the size of the Everglades - were the main stopover on the Siberia-Africa bird migration route, and a crucial filter that cleansed the rivers as they flowed into the Persian Gulf.

Saddam Hussein's regime systematically destroyed the marshes, perhaps in search of oil, perhaps to speed the march into Kuwait, and forced the Marsh Arabs, the indigenous people of the area who lived on islands made of reeds, out of their homes. But in 2003, as Baghdad fell, local people began blowing up dams and ripping out dikes, allowing water to return. On his month-long visit in June 2003, Richardson recalls, he and his colleagues...

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