A brief introductory overview of the environmental dimensions of Iraq’s conflicts, with facts, figures and further reading.
From the Iran-Iraq War to the rise of Islamic State, Iraq’s environment has been deeply scarred by conflict. Now facing climate change, conflicts over water with its neighbours, high levels of industrial pollution, biodiversity loss and the serious consequences of Islamic State’s scorched earth policies, environmental issues are increasingly critical for Iraq’s sustainability and security.
A new PAX report, ‘Living under a black sky’, reveals how the conflict in Iraq has left a toxic trail of destruction,which could have severe health consequences for communities and reconstruction efforts.
ISIL’s scorched earth policy in Iraq: options for its victims to be recognised under international law
With what has been called a ‘landmark’ resolution, the UN Security Council has established a team to investigate international crimes committed by ISIL in Iraq. Will the investigative team also seek accountability for the victims of its scorched earth policy and oil fires? On which criminal provisions could the team of experts rely to address conflict-related environmental harm?
The Iraqi government has tabled a draft resolution aimed at addressing pollution caused by armed conflicts and terrorist operations for this year’s meeting of the UN Environment Assembly. The overarching theme of UNEA3 is pollution, and the universal membership body is the UN’s primary decision-making body on the environment. Doug Weir takes a look at the scope of the initial text and looks ahead to the negotiations.
London conference highlights opportunities to improve environmental response to conflict pollution in Iraq
As the dust settles from the battle to recapture Mosul, and the urgent humanitarian crisis reaches its peak with millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in desperate need of medical help, shelter food and water, Iraq is beginning to reflect on the extent of the damage inflicted by the battle against the so-called Islamic State (IS). Beyond the immediate needs of IDPs, it is becoming clear that recovery and reconstruction will be a huge challenge, requiring billions of dollars to rebuild the country. One element that will need to be addressed writes Wim Zwijnenburg, but which is rarely prioritised in the reconstruction agenda, is the impact of conflict on the environment and its consequent health risks.
Oil fires started by Islamic State in northern Iraq have now been burning for months, exacerbating an already serious humanitarian crisis, but right now nobody seems to be monitoring their impact on the ground.
With new legal principles on the table governing obligations for the remediation of toxic remnants of war, and to ensure data sharing on environmental risks, we take a look at the case of depleted uranium use in Iraq. The US and UK were reluctant to accept responsibility for clearance, and differed markedly on data sharing and cooperation with the Iraqi authorities and UN system.
The United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) was established after the 1991 Gulf War. Its aim was to not only help neighbouring states recover from the personal and financial losses inflicted during the war, but also to help repair the environmental damage caused. With protection for the environment in armed conflict under increasing scrutiny, it seems useful to re-examine how this mechanism worked.
As the United States, Russia, and others step up attacks on oil infrastructure captured by the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), there is concern over their direct and long-term environmental and public health impacts.
While Iraq is still recovering from the environmental impact of both Gulf wars, it now faces new environmental problems caused by the current conflict against the Islamic State. Since the uprising began in June 2014, fierce battles have taken place in and around cities and industrial areas, affecting the already precarious environmental situation. Wim Zwijnenburg considers the risks and response.
Always pleased to see new papers on #water and conflict from @esweinthal and @jeannielsowers. Their latest is: The water‐energy nexus in the Middle East: Infrastructure, development, and conflict https://t.co/KSvS2b4OO1 #Syria #Iraq #Yemen #Libya #OPT
There's a huge amount more to be done but it's satisfying to see 2017's UN Environment Assembly resolution on conflict pollution - inspired by the oil fires in #Iraq - being used by @UNEP to leverage resources to address IS's legacy, and with #naturebasedsolutions too. #UNEA5
Wim Zwijnenburg on Twitter
“Excellent use of #naturebasedsolutions for conflict-pollution! @UNEP applies bioremediation to clean-up massive oil spills caused by ISIS in 20...
Excellent use of #naturebasedsolutions for conflict-pollution! @UNEP applies bioremediation to clean-up massive oil spills caused by ISIS in 2016. Great video here that inspires further work dealing with environmental damage from conflicts https://t.co/wmhLh94h0u
Poor environmental governance and a changing climate are leading to the displacement of people in southern Iraq, with families unable to sustain themselves from agriculture and livestock production.
IOM | Rural areas in Ninewa: Legacies of conflict on rural economies and communities in Sinjar and Ninewa Plains
Report finds that Islamic State’s extractive and destructive policies towards agricultural areas in northern Iraq are continuing to hamper renewed agricultural activities in rural Ninewa Plains and Sinjar and are delaying the return of IDP farmers to their areas of origin.
An investigation into the factors behind the water crisis in Basra Iraq, and the failure of the Iraqi government to address them.
The impacts of climate change are particularly complex in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The region suffers from violent conflicts and severe water scarcity, while climate models show more serious scenarios here than in other regions. This paper explains how the security of the MENA region is inscribed in a new climate reality.
This article uses open source methods and remote sensing to explore the trail of agricultural destruction caused by fires in central Iraq in May 2019, and reviews the evidence of whether they have been deliberately started by Islamic State.
A year after victory was declared over Islamic State in Iraq, this report examines the human and environmental legacy of its strategy of wanton damage in agricultural areas, and why more recovery assistance is needed from the Iraqi government.
This paper considers the threat that environmental degradation poses for peacebuilding and recovery in Iraq and Yemen, with a particular focus on climate change risks. But it also identifies opportunities for addressing the environment during reconstruction efforts.
Climate change, drought and military activities all contributed to a spate of wildfires in Iraq during the summer of 2018, a pattern that seems likely to continue in coming years.
Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks | Iraq Climate-related security risk assessment
Hydrological limitations, increasing temperatures and extreme weather events put pressure on basic resources and undermine livelihood security for Iraq’s population. Failure to monitor and manage these climate-related risks will increase the risk from ISIS and post-ISIS terrorist groups.
Alongside other major long-term challenges, such as the resettlement and integration of refuges and internally displaced people, urban rehabilitation or political stability, a vital priority must be to address Iraq’s water crisis in order to break the cycles of conflict and post-conflict periods and to build a basis for sustainable peace in the country.
A summary report commission by DfID covering the risks Iraq faces due to climate change, the degradation of water resources, biodiversity loss and conflict pollution.
Debris generated by conflicts poses health and environmental risks and its unsustainable management can lead to further environmental problems. This study reviewed the options for managing the vast quantity of debris generated by the conflict against Islamic State in Mosul.
The end of hostilities left Mosul, already devastated by ISIL’s wanton killings, grappling with debris from widespread destruction of infrastructure by rival forces.
Amid land mines, militants, and air strikes, conservationists are trying to carve out a protected area in the war-torn country. Can they succeed?
Save the Tigris and Iraqi Marshes Campaign | Tigris River Pollution in Baghdad: Challenges and Recommendations
This report finds that the water quality of the Tigris River has deteriorated in recent times and pollutants have left an imprint on the population. Wastewater from various sources flows directly into the river: in particular increasing levels of industrial and public service discharges.
The Islamic State footprint on Iraq’s environment may be unprecedented and permanent, with a toxic legacy that includes wide-scale cattle deaths, fields that no longer yield edible crops and chronic breathing complications in children and the elderly, doctors and experts said.
Interview with Dr. Hassan Janabi, Iraq’s Minister of Water Resources on the developing water crisis in the country.
Living under a black sky revealed how the conflict in Iraq has left a toxic trail of destruction,which could have severe health consequences for communities and reconstruction efforts.
Battered by shifting resources, desperate farmers were driven into terror recruiters’ clutches. Can it happen again?
This study used remote observations to model the atmospheric dispersion of sulphur dioxide from a fire at the Al Mishraq sulphur plant near Mosul, estimated casualties corresponded well with those reported.
This rapid scoping assessment was primarily based on observational walkover surveys, and focus group discussions and interviews with government experts, academics and UN agencies.
Meet Azzam Alwash, the man who left a life of luxuries behind in the US to return to his native Iraq and restore the country’s historically significant wetlands to their former glory.
PAX and ICBUW | Targets of Opportunity: Analysis of the use of depleted uranium by A-10s in the 2003 Iraq War
Analysis of the locations where US forces fired depleted uranium weapons in the 2003 Iraq War which revealed its widespread use in urban areas and against non-armoured targets.
The mission to Iraq’s Mosul Dam proved that there is a growing need for UNEP to be integrated in the humanitarian world. The environment lies at the very heart of many of the world’s most devastating humanitarian disasters.
Conflicts over water have long haunted the Middle East. Yet in the current fighting in Iraq, the major dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are seen not just as strategic targets but as powerful weapons of war.
The lack of a clear strategy to deal with the legacy of the use of depleted uranium (DU) munitions in Iraq, from either the Coalition Forces, the Coalition Provisional Authority or the Iraqi government, has resulted in the continued exposure of civilians to DU.
IKV Pax Christi | In a State of Uncertainty: impact and implications of the use of depleted uranium in Iraq
The aim of this report is to provide greater clarity on the impact that the use of DU has had on Iraqi society; in doing so it will document the persistent uncertainty that continues to affect the daily lives of Iraqi civilians.
An assessment of the capacity of Iraq’s environment ministry in 2006 found it to be in good shape but made recommendations to improve its work.
This assessment identified the need for a priority programme of site assessment and emergency intervention at contaminated sites, and follow up work by UNEP and the Ministry of Environment to address the identified toxic waste on the worst of the first five sites has commenced.
This document summarises the results of environmental assessments of the 1991 Gulf War undertaken by IUCN-the World Conservation Union and collaborators during the period 1991 to 1993.
A Greenpeace study prepared for the a meeting on a “Fith Geneva Convention” in London, May 1991.