March Arabs

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Ma'dan's guest house: mudhif , a barrel roof made of reed
A Maʿīdīya on the move
Look into a normal mudhif 1990

The Marsh Arabs , also called Maʿdan ( Arabic معدان, DMG Maʿdān , singularمعيدي / Maʿīdī ), are an Iraqi Bedouin population group.


Marsh Arabs inhabit the marshes and swamps in southern Iraq, the area around the Shatt al-Arab , the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates , south of the city of Amara and east of Nasiriyya . The (once) fertile land is often referred to as the " Garden of Eden ". Their livelihood is fishing, which they practice with reed or wooden boats and also rice and melon cultivation. They also build their houses from reeds.

The son of a British colonial official and author Wilfred Thesiger had described the Ma'dan most impressively when he lived there for some time in the 1950s.


Under Saddam Hussein's regime, the Marshal Arabs and their culture were suppressed and persecuted. One reason for this is that most of them are followers of the Shiite direction of Islam . Another reason is that they uphold numerous traditions that the Ba'ath Party viewed as irrational and out of date. These rites include, for example, the Shiite funeral ceremonies with self-flagellation on the days of Tasua , Ashura and in the month of mourning Muharram .

Marsh Arabs in a traditional wooden plank boat (
mashuf )

During the 1st Gulf War against Iran , they were courted by Saddam Hussein's regime as fighters for the "liberation" of Arabistan . After Iraq's defeat in the Second Gulf War , the March Arabs rose against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and counted on American military support. However, they withdrew from Iraq so that Iraqi troops loyal to the regime could brutally suppress the uprising .

Within a few years, the marshes and river arms of the settlement areas of the Marsh Arabs were systematically dried out in order to destroy the refuge of Shiite rebels. According to various estimates, only 20,000–50,000 of the original 500,000 inhabitants of the marshland still live. The rest were either executed or evicted. In large parts of the area, flora and fauna were destroyed. The fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was a great relief for the Marsh Arabs. In order to flood the parched areas again, dams in southern Iraq were torn down; meanwhile (as of 2015) the former marshland is slowly recovering. There are efforts among the people of the march to revive the old traditions.


Films and documentaries

  • Iraq's Garden of Eden - The Swamp of Hope (Documentary, UK 2010)

Web links

  • Haur al-Hammar , the marshland in southern Iraq with pictures on the following pages.

Individual evidence

  1. Iraq. Pitt Rivers Museum Photos by Wilfried Thesiger
  2. Iraq: Paradise Swamps. ARD Weltspiegel from February 9, 2015