The Marshes became a battle ground during the Iran-Iraq war, and Saddam Hussein later drained them to punish the Marsh Arabs for participating in uprisings against him.

It took decades for the delicate ecosystem of the marshes to begin to recover, and they were named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016.

From his studio in Baghdad, Akeel Khreef is preparing his trip to Iraq’s southern marshes, as part of Ruya Foundation’s commission for the World Weather Network. He watches a film promoting tourism in the marshes. Later, at a cafe, he contacts Mr Jassim al-Assadi, a renowned Iraqi environmental activitis who is also the director of the NGO Nature Iraq. He is based in the Chubayish Marshes in Nassirya, and will help Akeel with his weather research.

The effects of war still linger in Iraq, with new consequences today that have led to the abuse of water access of the marshes once again. As Khreef drives through the desert south of Baghdad that once filled with date palm fields, he spots an oil well – the export that replaced the country’s treasured fruit. Methane flaring from oil wells in Iraq is a known contributor to rising cancer rates, according to a 2022 investigation by the BBC.

Follow Khreef’s journey here.

Photo: Akeel Khreef

Akeel Khreef’s studio in Baghdad. Photo: Akeel Khreef

Photo: Akeel Khreef

Khreef at one of Baghdad’s famed cafes. Photo: Akeel Khreef

A report on tourism in Iraq’s marshes. Photo: Akeel Khreef

Photo: Akeel Khreef

An oil well south of Baghdad. Photo: Akeel Khreef