In Basra, Fighting Rising Temps With Trees

In the southern Iraqi city of Basra, locals are taking matters into their own hands to fight climate change. “In recent years temperatures in Basra have exceeded 50 degrees Centigrade,” explains Alaa Hashim al-Badran, head of the union of agricultural engineers in Basra. “And that is dangerous.”

The ramifications of ongoing climate change mean that the city and its inhabitants may face even higher temperatures in the future. To try and ameliorate the impact, locals have started planting trees. They intend to have planted a million of them shortly, and 16 million in the next few years.

Al-Badran says the idea for a tree-planting campaign was first suggested in the middle of the year and has since progressed rapidly. There are a hundred volunteers and over 15,000 supporters online, he notes, and in the near future, there should be even more people involved.

Citing the example of successful tree planting in Gulf Arab countries, al-Badran and his colleagues believe this may be one of the only ways to prevent Basra from deadly over-heating.



“Over the next few years we plan to plant 16 million trees here,” he told NIQASH. “The first phase starts in September and goes until mid-November. Then we will start again in mid-February and carry on until mid-April next year. The first objective is to plant 1 million trees.”

Trees can help conserve soil and water and they act as carbon sinks, as well as providing shade. The figure of 16 million more trees is thought to be the minimum needed in Basra, in order to have any impact on the heat here.

“Our department supports this campaign to increase green areas,” adds Ahmed Jassim Hanoun, director of the department for the protection of the environment at Basra’s Ministry of the Environment. “Trees will also be used as windbreaks because the barren land suffers from erosion,” he noted.

His ministry suggests that almost three-quarters of the land in central and southern Iraq is suffering the effects of desertification. This is due not only to the mismanagement of the land and the inadequacy of traditional irrigation but also to ongoing drought and climate change.

First up, trees are going to be planted around all Basra’s schools, health institutions and government buildings. Then parks, streets and private residences will be planted. Finally, the plan is to establish green belts near oil fields and other sites where there is enough water – these could eventually become recreational areas, the tree-planters say.

The trees themselves have been carefully chosen for their abilities to survive in harsh environments, says Qassim al-Mashat, a member of the tree-planting campaign. The plants have also been chosen because they grow quickly.


Desertification in Basra.


A lot of different groups have been coming forward to join in the campaign and Zeina al-Tamimi, a volunteer, wanted to emphasise that the tree planters had no specific political affiliation. They had come together out of concern about climate change and rising temperatures as well as worries about pollution caused by the oil industry, unplanned construction and the levelling of palm tree forests.

Al-Tamimi says she has been working mainly on informing people about the tree planting. Various pages on Facebook and on the messaging system WhatsApp have proven popular, she says, and the campaign has also passed on information to supporters about which plants grow best in Basra and how to care for them.

“The response has been great,” al-Tamimi says.

And in fact, some of the response has even come from further afield. Hassan Ali Mohammed is a farmer from northern Iraq, based in the Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah. “I recently visited Basra and it was really sad to see the environmental degradation,” he explains. “That is why I donated a thousand seedlings and I would urge all other local plant breeders to donate too, as much as they can.”

The tree planters do face some challenges – things like scarce water supplies, the increasingly saline nature of local waterways and the lack of adequate desalinization plants. But, they hope, they have chosen the trees with the best possible chance to survive in these circumstances.

The success of the campaign can only be assured if everyone takes care of the trees, Mohammed advises the people of Basra. “You must protect the trees from animals and abusers and properly select and plant them,” he concludes.


Workers in one of Basra’s municipal parks.

source: Niqash

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In Basra, A Plague of Medical ‘Brokers’ Puts Patients Health At Risk

It was a strange way for the Basra orthopaedic doctor to find out he was dead. “One of my patients came to see me for a routine check-up, something he does every two months, and he was surprised to see me – because I was still alive,” the doctor told NIQASH.

The patient had been waylaid by one of Basra’s medical brokers, salesmen who are paid by clinics in Basra to bring patients into their surgeries. The brokers – called dallaloun by the locals – wait at junctions where there are pharmacies, doctors’ surgeries and labs. They speak to passers-by and recommend the services of a doctor, who eventually pays them a cut for bringing a new patient to the clinic. The business is pressured and sometimes their sales methods are dodgy. That’s what happened to the orthopaedic doctor in question.  

Sometimes the doctors make use of the ignorance of their patients and they convince them they are suffering from illness they don’t have so that they will pay more.

“One of the brokers told my patient that I had died and offered to take him elsewhere,” continues the orthopaedist, who had actually been on holiday overseas; he wanted to remain anonymous because he feared for his safety if the brokers found out he was telling tales. “But my patient wanted to check this so he went to the hospital where I also work and was told that I was not dead.”

The doctor says this phenomenon of the brokers doesn’t happen elsewhere, it is unique to Basra. Most of the medical brokers work in the Aziziyah neighbourhood in Basra, where there are a lot of medical service providers and much foot traffic.

The brokers will tell potential patients all kinds of stories: The clinic has moved. The doctor is a bad doctor and inefficient, or dangerous. They may say the doctor has retired or they will garnish a doctor’s CV, saying that the person also works as a specialist at a local hospital. Or that the doctor works for a medical committee that grants sick leave to government staff.

Abdallah Qassim, a local nurse, confirms the practice. “It’s not just doctors setting up a new practice that do this,” Qassim told NIQASH. “Even well-established doctors use brokers.”

If a patient pays the doctor, say, IQD25,000 (about US$21) for a consultation, then the doctor will keep IQD15,000 and the broker will get IQD10,000, Qassim explains. Some doctors will give all of the fee to the broker and then make money from the patient in other ways.  

“Most of the people who fall victim to the brokers are poorer people who live out in the country and have come into Basra to go to the doctor,” says another Basra doctor, Abdul-Hamid Abdul-Majid.  “Sometimes the doctors make use of the ignorance of their patients and they convince them they are suffering from illness they don’t have so that they will pay extra for X-rays or other tests. The doctors have agreements with the companies providing those services and they get a kick back from them. That’s how they make back the money they pay to the brokers,” he concludes.

Part of the reason that doctors are using the brokers is because of the rising cost of doing business in Basra, suggests Shawqi Sadiq, a local pharmacist. Work has halved and taxes and rents are rising.

Thanks to an increasing number of security checkpoints as well as the roads being closed to vehicles for security reasons, there are fewer potential patients coming to the area. But there are still more than a hundred medical service providers – including pharmacies, clinics, laboratories and specialists for things like X-rays – in the area.

Some of the doctors have been tempted to move away, into the Saei district where there are wider streets and more modern buildings. Often pharmacies will pay for the doctor’s space as long as the doctor prescribes certain medications that the pharmacy stocks.  

Doctors should actually be prosecuted for “these shameful acts”, says Mushtaq Abu al-Hail, the head of the local medical union. “We have circulated letters telling doctors they should abide by the law, which prohibits them dealing with brokers,” al-Hail told NIQASH. “Doctors are primarily to blame for this problem,” he added. “We know the names of those using brokers and we have sent them notices to cease and desist. We are now seeking the help of local government to put a stop to this.”

At one stage, local security forces did launch a campaign to clear the streets of medical brokers after various complaints from the public. Many were arrested but were later released thanks to the influence of their tribes or families.

Meanwhile it is the evening rush hour back in Aziziyah and the brokers are quietly meandering, beginning their work. Most of them are well educated young men, glib and persuasive but certainly not kind.  It seems clear that they won’t allow anyone to stop them from making a living – not even doctors who come back from the dead. 

source: Niqash

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In Basra, Tribal Justice Creates Climate of Fear and Distrust

One early morning recently, Nathim al-Shammari got up, got dressed and walked down to his workplace as usual. But this day was far from ordinary. When al-Shammari got to his store, in the Zubair neighbourhood in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, he found a chilling sentence graffitied across the front of the premises: Wanted. For Blood Money.

Frightened, al-Shammari hurried home and packed, intending to to stay elsewhere for a while. He also called his family to tell them what had happened and then he went to report the incident at the local police station.

“There they told me to stay where I was and not to file a complaint,” he explains. “Then the head of my tribe called me and told me there was a conflict that had something to do with my cousins fighting with members of another tribe.”

Al-Shammari is employed by one of the local government departments and runs his small grocery store on the side. Thanks to the brewing tribal conflict, he had to close the store and take a month’s vacation from his regular job, moving with his family to another location until the situation could be resolved. All of the latter cost al-Shammari a lot of time and money, he complains. And all because of something done by somebody he had never even met. The dispute had to do with a distant relative he did not know, who had not repaid a debt. “And I found myself caught up in a fight that I had nothing to do with,” he told NIQASH.

A local expert in tribal affairs tells of a Basra doctor who was reluctant to operate on patients in case anything went wrong and he was attacked by members of the patient’s tribe.

This is just an example of the way that tribal justice is meted out in parts of southern Iraq. Many Iraqis resolve problems – whether criminal or civil – without going to the authorities. They prefer to use the ancient systems of tribal justice.

Despite the trappings of democracy and the rule of law in Iraq, the tribal system remains strong in this country and elsewhere in the Middle East. As one tribal leader told NIQASH, “when the state is strong and capable of imposing the letter of the law, every person feels that his rights are respected. But when the state is weak for one reason or the other, and is incapable of enforcing the law throughout the entire country, then tribal associations become stronger and tribal laws are applied more frequently. It becomes the only option to protect people and their families.”

In tribal law, when a dispute arises, the complainant decides whether they wish to use tribal law or go to the legal system. If they choose tribal law, then the accused must abide by their decision; if they do not, then it may mean that more members of the two tribes involved are forced into a wider dispute, perhaps even a feud. What this means in effect is that family and tribe members would most likely persuade the accused to accede to the complainant’s wishes.

“And this chaos is supported by influential people,” explains Ali al-Mathhaji, a Basra human rights activist. “Most of the politicians and officials believe that they get their power from their tribal support. That’s why tribal loyalty, and tribal law, plays such a big part in decision making.”

If Iraqi officials are using tribal law, then how can one try and stop ordinary citizens from using it too, al-Mathhaji argues.

And while in some cases, tribal law may be a good way to resolve a dispute, in other cases – such as in the shopkeeper, al-Shammari’s – it just causes unnecessary fear and waste.  

The Ibn Rushd School in Basra’s Jumhuriyah neighbourhood is a good example of this. There one of the parents whose son had failed exams, wrote threatening messages on the school walls, beat the school’s principal and threatened teachers.

Many schools have been threatened or forced to close in similar cases, Jawad al-Maryosh, the head of Basra’s teachers’ union, told NIQASH. This included the Al Nisr Al Arabi school in central Basra and the Al Latif and Al Shahid secondary schools in the Harrah area, among others.  

The reasons behind the closures may be that a certain student failed exams, or it could be something as simple as the school not paying rent for its buildings on time, al-Maryosh pointed out. The disputes are usually resolved eventually and the local education authorities always stay out of it, he says. They don’t provide any assistance for endangered teaching staff either.

A local expert in tribal affairs, Salam al-Sharifi, tells NIQASH about a Basra doctor who was reluctant to operate on patients in case anything went wrong and he was attacked by members of the patient’s tribe.

“This has happened in the past,” al-Sharifi told NIQASH. “Some doctors had their cars burned and some of them were forced to pay blood money [a sum to compensate for the death of an individual, or harm done to that person] – in some cases the doctors paid as much as IQD50 million [around US$39,000]. In many situations, the doctors won’t try and bring the problem to further attention because their reputation is at stake.”

Graffiti demanding justice in Basra.

Of course, tribal justice is not all bad either. Sometimes it can be the quickest way to a resolution that is happily accepted by all. For example, members of the Bani Tamim tribe closed down a major commercial area in Basra because they said the rent on the land had not been paid by investors.

“We knew it wasn’t the right thing to do,” says one tribe member who didn’t want to give their name. “But the park’s administration, who rented the land from us, had not paid us one penny for almost seven years. If we had not done this, we would have received nothing.”

Some of the tribal leaders in Basra do not approve of this kind of behaviour. It is a form of “terrorism made from traditions,” says Abdullah Aziz al-Khafaji, a local community leader. It terrorizes innocent people and divides society, he argues.

“These acts are ones of revenge,” al-Khafaji stated. “They are only happening because of the weakness of the state, and therefore the rule of law, after 2003. Many tribes have made promises that they would not use tribal justice to get revenge but unfortunately they did not keep them.”

The local government has been trying to do something about this too, says Sheikh Abbas Al-Fadli, who advises the provincial council on tribal matters and who heads a special committee tasked with resolving inter-tribal conflicts, working together with local security forces.

“The joint committee has started its work and we now have an overview of existing problems,” al-Fadli told NIQASH; the tribe is trying to get as much cooperation from local tribal leaders as possible. “Most of the tribal groups in northern Basra are now coordinating with the commander of security forces here to put an end to these problems. We believe that in the coming days we will see a lot of success. Reconciliation is the best solution,” al-Fadli argues.  

Additionally, local lawyer Saleh Kadhem al-Mutawari notes that there are actually penalties under real Iraqi law for some of the things that tribal justice often demands.  

According to the Iraqi penal code, verbal threats can be punished by up to a year in prison and if somebody threatens to kill you, they could go to jail for around seven years.

“The law says that the victim can also ask for financial compensation through the courts, especially if he suffers any consequences of the threatening behaviour – such as damages to property, a shop or a vehicle,” al-Mutawari says. “But of course, most people don’t go to the authorities because they fear it will only bring on further acts of revenge.”


source: Niqash

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In Basra, Locals Set Up ‘Museums’ At Home

It’s been a long wait for Ahmad Mahmoud al-Daftar, a local living in the southern Iraqi city of Basra. Too long, in fact. The city’s brand new and already much lauded Museum of Antiquities opened just a couple of months ago. But al-Daftar had already opened his own museum, at home.

Al-Daftar has been collecting antiques from around Basra for years and dedicated part of his own home to displaying them. 

“Some of the things on display date back centuries,” he says proudly. “They reflect the history of Basra and give the younger generation a better understanding of their own city, at different times in history.”

Al-Daftar says he inherited his collector’s nature from his father, along with some of his father’s collection. Other things he has bought from their owners and he has hundreds of items, including swords and other kinds of weapons, that both locals and foreigners have come to see. Al-Daftar has been so happy with the response to his collection he plans to expand his display and construct a new building.

In the past, Basra has been home to a wide variety of well-known museums. At one stage the city had a museum of antiquities, a natural history museum and a floating maritime museum near the entrance of the Ashar River. However these museums were either destroyed or looted.

“All the antiquities in the museum at Basra University were destroyed during the war in 1991 and the historic building was also destroyed,” says Qahtan al-Obaid, director of the city’s new Museum of Antiquities. “Half of the items were stolen but the other half was saved because it was sent to Baghdad for safe keeping. These items will be returned to Basra when we have an appropriate place to display and store them.”

Al-Obaid says he hopes that further halls will open in the near future where items from the ancient Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian periods will be displayed. There is also a plan to open a special museum for cars, he adds.

Because the official museums were destroyed or looted, Basra’s enthusiastic locals have played their own part in preserving their city’s heritage.

Basra biology teacher, Hisham Khairallah, created a museum space in which he has displayed local animals preserved through taxidermy. The animals do come from around Iraq but many are from Basra itself and its surrounds. 

“This museum tells the natural story of the city and southern Iraq,” Khairallah explains. “It is also used by biology classes. The animals here reflect the environmental diversity of this part of the world.”

A museum of natural history was supposed to be being built near the newly opened Museum of Antiquities but the work has now stalled. So Khairallah says he is pleased to be keeping his collection at home as well as lending it out to seasonal exhibitions.

“Caring for our heritage – both natural and cultural – is important for attracting visitors but it also has an impact on the local community, in an intellectual sense, and it helps encourage multi-culturalism,” says Anwar Gaseb al-Tarrif, a local researcher. 

Al-Tarrif believes that the world’s image of Arab culture has been distorted, as has Basra’s own image. “It is important to create the image of this place as it should be,” al-Tarrif told NIQASH, “and to have both the local community and tourists see it this way.”

source: Niqash

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In Basra, As Crime Increases, So Do Security Camera Sales

A recent security camera video that showed a young Basra taxi driver being murdered has caused an outcry in the southern Iraqi city. The murderer is seen on camera pointing a gun at the 22-year-old taxi driver, Ali Kathem, and then shooting him as he tries to escape. After the security camera video was posted online, many locals were moved by the plight of Kathem’s wife, who was pregnant with the couple’s first baby, and a sit-in was organized in front of the offices of the provincial government during which protestors called for better security, and justice for the murdered driver.

Although Basra, with its population of close to 4 million, has oil and ports, and should by rights be one of Iraq’s most economically prosperous towns, there is still an overwhelming amount of poverty here, and therefore more crime. It is estimated that over a third of Basra’s citizens live in poverty.

So this incident is not the first to be recorded on a closed circuit security camera. Given the authorities’ lack of ability to do anything about crime in the city, many locals are deciding that their best chance of preventing crime and capturing criminals is by installing a security camera.

“The footage from these cameras has helped to identify criminals,” says Nabil Kathem, who owns a business in the Ashar commercial district that sells and installs security cameras. “Which has made people more aware of how useful these cameras could be.”

Kathem says that demand for his wares has been rising since last year when there was a series of armed robberies in private homes, as well as kidnappings. There have also been more attacks on taxi drivers.

In fact, Kathem says, a lot of the residential streets of Basra are now monitored almost along their whole length by privately owned security cameras. Before these kinds of cameras were only ever installed in stores or in government buildings.

The security cameras are also more popular because of their prices, suggests Salam Abdul Hussein, an engineer working for a Basra firm that specializes in security fit outs. They start at US$700 and go as high as US$2,000. The most expensive cameras are able to identify faces in the dark and pinpoint license plates at a distance.

“The security forces often depend on the footage from these cameras,” a source at the Basra police command centre told NIQASH anonymously because he was not authorized to speak on the matter. “Perpetrators are often arrested based on this video evidence. For example, in the recent murder of a taxi driver [not Ali Kathem] footage from security cameras meant that the murderer was arrested just one day after the crime.”

Most of the houses belonging to officials or to businessmen in Basra now have security cameras installed, similar to those one normally finds in government buildings, says Majid Hamid, a local businessman. The security situation is deteriorating and one cannot rely on security guards, he notes.

Another local merchant, Ahmad Abdul Karim, says he feels much safer and he feels assured that his family is safe too, after installing a network of security cameras in his home. He believes that criminal gangs avoid the houses with cameras.

“And the modern technology means we can actually monitor the security cameras from our mobile phones, wherever we are,” he boasts.

But it is not just the well-off in Basra who are installing security cameras. Local teacher Sijad Aqil installed cameras at his house three months ago, after his brother’s house was robbed.

“The value of what was stolen was around IQD35 million (around US$27,000) but the cost of installing the cameras is only about US$800,” Aqil says. “This is a very reasonable price compared to what someone can lose if the cameras are not installed.”

The local government has also been trying to establish a project using security cameras – but this was suggested several years ago and still hasn’t been activated.

“The local government has received information about the security cameras on local roads and will soon activate a networked surveillance camera project on the roads and in public areas,” explains Jabbar al-Saadi, a member of the provincial council’s security council.

source: Niqash

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