Heritage plan for Iraqi marshes

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The United Nations has launched an initiative to have the marshlands of southern Iraq listed as a world heritage site.

The ancient wetlands, believed by some to be the site of the Garden of Eden, were drained and virtually destroyed by Saddam Hussein's government.

But more than half of the area has been restored in a UN project over the past four years.

The Iraqi Environment Minister Narmin Othman welcomed the plans.

She said the marshlands and centuries-old culture of the Marsh Arabs had been in danger of disappearing in an ecological and human tragedy.

Crucial habitat

The United Nations Environment Programme, Unep, said the soonest Iraq could realistically put its case to the World Heritage Committee was 2010.

If approved, the marshlands could be listed the following year.

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