BAGHDAD -- Iraq's Environment Ministry is blaming Baghdad city authorities for the failure to create a so-called "green belt" around the city to alleviate the impact of Iraq's notorious sandstorms, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.
Ministry spokesman Mustafa Hamid told RFE/RL on November 9 that more green spaces filled with trees and plants were needed in and around Baghdad, "but the green belt project was unsuccessful due to the incorrect methods used to plant palm trees and choosing the wrong time of the year to do so."
He termed the project, which was launched in 2008, "a public relations failure brought about by mismanagement."
Baghdad's municipal authorities, however, say they are not to blame.
The Baghdad mayor's office spokesman, Hakim Abd al-Zahra, told RFE/RL that "the failure of the green-belt project was unjustly blamed on the mayoralty because it does not fall within its sphere of competence."
Abd al-Zahra pointed out that "the envisaged green belt skirted the parameters of the capital's built-up area, which makes the Baghdad provincial government, rather than the mayoralty, responsible for it."
Baghdad Provincial Council Planning Committee Chairman Muhammad al-Rubaie told RFE/RL that "the admittedly flawed project was approved under the former governor of Baghdad, Hussein al-Tahan, but that does not exempt the provincial government from responsibility."
Rubaie said that some 200 billion Iraqi dinars (more than $170 million) were wasted on the project, which included urban development at Baghdad's six entry points. He argued that the Baghdad provincial government should remedy the situation by replacing the withering trees with viable plants.
The original plan was to surround Baghdad with a belt of palm trees to lessen pollution, carbon emissions, and the environmental and health impact of the dust storms that occasionally envelop the capital city and reduce visibility, disrupt flights, and worsen the condition of those suffering from respiratory diseases.
According to the Planning Ministry, Iraq had about 11 million palm trees in 2006, down from some 30 million in the 1960s.