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Iraq's Tigris Becoming a River Graveyard

Fishing in the River Tigris is under threat after Imams [religious leaders], Shia as well as Sunni, issued fatwas [religious rulings] banning fishing in the river.

The fatwas were issued after government officials from the Ministry of the Environment said at end of May that the Tigris was contaminated and not fit either for drinking or personal use. As a result, hundreds of fishermen are desperate as fishing in the river is their only source of income.

"For years we have been fishing for carp, using the money to feed our families, but now we are banned from fishing because the government has said the water is polluted, and militants are targeting anyone who tries to break the law," said Abu Khalid, 49, a fisherman in Baghdad.

"People don't buy our fish any more. They have been frightened off by the latest information about water contamination, but we are desperate to try and find a way to support our families," Khalid added.

In Adhamyia District, one of the main places for fishing, policeman Col Ayad Jamil said many bodies had been found in the past two months on the riverbank. They had been killed while trying to fish. Some bodies were found inside boats with fishing gear.

"We ask fishermen to be careful because they are putting their lives at risk. We can't protect each person who tries to fish, but we condemn the assassinations which we have discovered were being carried out by militants after fatwas issued by their religious leaders," Jamil said.

Some Islamic religious leaders have issued fatwas since the end of May.

"We decided to issue a fatwa after [people] insisted on fishing and drinking the unsafe water," Sheikh Abdallah Muhammad Aydan, a Sunni religious leader who issued one of the fatwas, said. "We know many people depend on fish in the river to survive but we are just preventing them from getting sick and dying from infections and other diseases."

According to a Ministry of Environment survey of the river, various pollutants and bacteria were found in samples taken.

"So many bodies have been dumped in the river in recent months. Rubbish and industrial waste are being dumped there and dozens of pipes are discharging sewage into it," said Duraid Abdul-Sattar, one of the biologists responsible for the Ministry of Environment's survey. "It is completely unsafe, undrinkable and even the fish may have been affected."

A physician in a local hospital said they had reported some cases of poisoning, especially among children, after they had drunk river water or eaten carp.

© IRIN 2007

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Albion Monitor   July 6, 2007   (

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