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UN Says Iraqi Marshlands Recovering --> 24 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- A United Nations agency says the ancient Iraqi marshlands which were drained by Saddam Hussein's regime are recovering quickly.

The Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Program says the southern Iraqi wetlands areas have so far been restored to some 37 percent of their former level since the March 2003 war that led to the toppling of Hussein's regime.

The agency says satellite images have indicated a "phenomenal" recovery rate for the marshlands, which had been reduced from 9,000 square kilometers to just 760 square kilometers in 2002.

Saddam's regime began moving against the Marsh Arabs in the early 1990s, accusing them of supporting a Shi'ite Muslim uprising after the 1991 Gulf War.

Saddam's regime diverted waterways and burned reed beds in the areas, turning what had been a pristine wetland ecosystem into semi-desert and forcing most residents to flee. Efforts to restore the areas accelerated after Saddam's regime was ousted.