The Tigris, Abandoned by Fish

(Andrea Bruce/The Washington Post) VIEW FULL PHOTO GALLERY

The wooden boats float on the edge of the Tigris River, bumping each other with a deep, empty sound -- the only sound on the river at 6 a.m. The sun brings a soft haze to the water, which reflects skyscrapers from the other side. Seven ferrymen sit in the back of their motorboats. They are quiet and comfortable in one another's company, waiting for customers to ferry across the river.

Six years ago they were fishermen, not ferrymen. But now, in the Haifa neighborhood of Baghdad, sewage runs through the narrow alleyways directly into the river. Waterside restaurants stand abandoned, their owners still afraid to open their doors. The fish have disappeared.

"My family used to fish day and night. But times have changed," says Latif Mahmoud, 65, his long face heavy with wrinkles. "I catch one, two fish a day now, and sometimes even they don't show up."

Some of the fishermen blame Syria and Iran for the lack of fish. They suspect those countries of holding back the river's water supply. Others blame a lack of regulations since the government collapsed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, allowing people to overfish.

Regardless, there aren't enough fish to even pay for fuel, Mahmoud says. A single gunshot from a bridge disturbs the quiet but is barely acknowledged.

Mahmoud exhales, a short laugh. His grandfather, he says, was also a ferryman -- he used a tire to float people across before there were working bridges. Now many bridges are closed, off-limits in the Green Zone or blocked by checkpoints. Traffic is fierce. The bridges are, again, barely usable.

Passengers arrive, announced by barking stray dogs that emerge from abandoned boats. Men and women, bound for the market across the river, stand on pieces of tin to avoid the sewage-wrecked water and step over piles of trash.

When the first boat is full, it leaves with a gentle wake. Most of the customers are regulars, crossing every day.

By Andrea Bruce, Washington Post Staff Photographer

By Liz Heron  |  October 12, 2008; 10:33 PM ET
Previous: A Joyful Welcome Home for Detainees | Next: A Grim Ritual at the Baghdad Morgue


Please email us to report offensive comments.

Why, as part of "Shock and Awe," did we attack the sewage treatment systems ?

Posted by: Brian | October 13, 2008 1:29 AM

"Unseen Iraq" should be page one.

Posted by: georgepwebster | October 13, 2008 3:50 AM

What's wrong with those fish, don't they know the Surge is working? Don't they know we're "winning"?

Posted by: KoolaidDrinker | October 13, 2008 4:08 AM

Koolaid, there is more about the world than US domestic politics. In fact, there are many, many things in the world that are not connected to US domestic politics in any way shape or form. It would be nice if Americans could be less parochial at times, but we tend to see everything distorted through the lense of our own narrow viewpoints.

I suppose all Humans are like that wherever you go, though, it appears to be a racial characteristic. However, I believe that in our search for wisdom we will learn to transend our narrow parochial views and see the work in a more panoramic way.

Posted by: ZZim | October 13, 2008 9:03 AM

Fishermen always lose , for $ome
$trange reason giant grain multinationals run the show.
Just look at the agricultural runoff in Louisiana and Mississipi,
another dead zone. If we continue there will be no living ocean and ,oh I guess no more human life either.

Posted by: william worrell | October 13, 2008 9:55 AM

Wow Warren, please enlighten us to the activities of the "giant grain multinationals" in Iraq.

Umm, did that sentence make me look stupid? Does everyone else know about the activities of "giant grain multinationals" in Iraq except me? Or are we being narrow-minded and parochial again?

Posted by: ZZim | October 13, 2008 10:04 AM

"Men and women, bound for the market across the river, stand on pieces of tin to avoid the sewage-wrecked water and step over piles of trash."

Where are the Baathist socialists when we need them? They used to take people of the streets at gun point to clean up this type of mess so Saddam's clan had workers to build palaces instead of treatment plants. Alas, the old days are gone.

Posted by: Salmun Al Farsi | October 13, 2008 10:40 AM

Wow! How did Bush find the time to steal all those fish within a few months of the invasion? He must have had a huge fish fry in Crawford to cause this type of ecosystem collapse.

But fear not, when we pull out of Iraq, the peace loving fascist leaders of the world will rule with benevolence and all be safe once again from the threat of advancing democracy.

Posted by: able danger | October 13, 2008 11:47 AM

The Tigris River, fountain that watered the rise of human civilization as we know is being polluted and made life-less by the greed and ignorance of THAT jerk called George W. Bush and those who manipuated his foolishness to their special interests without regards for loss of life, treasure, and honor.

Impeaching him would have been doing his conscience a favor.

He probably secretly begged for it.

Posted by: ElMugroso | October 26, 2008 6:34 PM

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