Cablegate: Dart Update On Marsh Arab Settlements

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. DART members from Kuwait City made several visits to
Marsh Arab settlements in Maysan governorate between 4 and 9
June, including Al Amarah, the governorate's capital, and Al
Khaila, a non-Marsh Arab community east of the Maimona
"River of Honor". DART members were sometimes accompanied
by representatives of the World Food Program (WFP) and by
the Ministry of Trade (MOT) Ration Registration Center
staff. The visits provided DART and WFP with a better
understanding of the reasons why some Marsh Arab communities
are under-registered in Iraq's Public Distribution System
(PDS). They also provided an opportunity to begin a
targeted on-the-spot registration process in these
communities. Discussions with Marsh Arab and non-Marsh Arab
leaders also substantiated information about livelihood
patterns of populations in the marsh region before and after
the draining of the marshes under the former regime.

2. DART meetings were held with the U.N. Office of the
Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI) regarding its
upcoming inter-agency Marsh Arab assessment and with the
International Organization for Migration (IOM) and its
implementing partner, Ockenden International, about its
current efforts to register Marsh Arabs as internally
displaced persons (IDPs). The meetings increased DART and
WFP concerns that approaching Marsh Arab vulnerability from
an IDP rather than community perspective at this time may:
1) delay the implementation of relatively simple, quick
impact community-based interventions which could address
urgent needs of both Marsh Arab and non-Marsh Arab
communities; 2) risk deepening rifts between Marsh Arab and
non-Marsh Arab communities, and may strain already tenuous
relations between various Marsh Arab tribes; and 3) result
in an unjustified ethnic-based prioritization of needs. End

DART Visit to Al Adl AND Al Khair

3. On 4 June, DART visited Marsh Arab settlements in an
area southwest of Al Amarah, between Al Adl and Al Khair.
The settlements flank a dike running along the west bank of
what is referred to as Saddam's "River of Honor," facing
plains to the west that were previously their marsh
homeland. Residents reported that their villages were not
affected by any significant military activity during the
recent conflict. Most of the government infrastructure
visited, a primary and secondary school, a clinic, and a
pumping station, however, were thoroughly looted. The
clinic, located in a new building in Al Khair that was built
within the past 18 months to serve 16 Marsh Arab villages in
the area, had expensive medical equipment reportedly removed
by the government in anticipation of a Coalition forces
occupation. The schools and the pumping station were
reportedly stripped and damaged by local residents.

4. The priority needs identified by interviewees were
potable water, electricity (available for approximately one
hour per day), and adequate health care. There is a
functioning clinic in Al Adl that is reported to be facing a
serious lack of drugs, particularly for the treatment of
diarrhea and leishmoniasis. Other common diseases reported
were malaria, Malta fever, urinary tract infections, and
acute respiratory infections. DART will pursue the drug
supply issue with the United Nations International
Children's Fund (UNICEF), the U.N. World Health
Organization, and Medecins Sans Frontieres in Al Basrah.

Quick Impact Projects

5. DART identified three possible rehabilitation projects
in Al Khair: the clinic (see paras 3 and 4), a looted
elementary school (serving 100 students from the neighboring
villages), and a pumping station for safe drinking water (in
good condition but stripped of four critical motors for
intake and output pumps). Despite reports that the tribes
in this area are under the authority of an influential Sheik
in Al Amarah, the lack of any kind of political or social
cohesion among them became apparent during the discussions,
and can easily pose serious challenges to the security and
sustainability of "quick impact" interventions. As one of
the tribal leaders described it when asked about the looted
elementary school, "the desks are in the village houses.
That village [tribe] does not see the school as their

--------------------------------------------- -------
Registration in the Public Distribution System (PDS)
--------------------------------------------- -------

6. In the areas visited by DART, tribal leaders reported
that they had previously been asked by "a man and a woman"
to make a list of families who were not registered in the
Public Distribution System (PDS) food ration program. They
prepared the list, and gave it to "the man". They did not
know who the man was or where he took the list. According
to the leaders, there were about 150 families on the list
(approximately 5 percent of the total number of families),
but the leaders were not sure that all unregistered families
had identified themselves. Family size was estimated at
between seven and eleven people, but has been reported to be
as high as 17 people per family. Leaders reported that the
most common reason for families not being registered was the
desertion of a family member from the army, or failure of an
eligible member to register for mandatory military service.
(Note: By WFP's assessment, the number of unregistered
families may vary from between five to thirty percent of the
total number of families. End Note.)

7. DART assumed that the "man and woman" who had made the
request were staff from Ockenden International, a British
non-governmental organization (NGO) and an implementing
partner of the International Organization for Migration
(IOM) that is registering Marsh Arabs under its mandate for
the protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
While this turned out not to be the case, DART verified that
Ockenden was in fact registering Marsh Arabs for IOM by
recording a family's lack of a PDS ration card as a need for
food assistance. In theory, IOM would then request rations
from WFP under the rubric of vulnerable group feeding.

Vulnerable Versus IDP Status

8. In Al Basrah, DART discussed with WFP and the U.N.
Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq (UNOHCI) its
concerns regarding the approach being taken by IOM, that is,
viewing the needs of Marsh Arabs as an IDP problem. UNOHCI
informed DART that it was under significant pressure to be
able to provide information about the Marsh Arabs as a
vulnerable group, and that it will also have to demonstrate
its ability to coordinate a rapid U.N. response to urgent
needs affecting Marsh Arab communities. When the creation
of a special task force and interagency assessment for Marsh
Arabs was proposed to the U.N. community in Al Basrah,
however, a majority of the U.N. agencies objected. They
insisted that focusing humanitarian assistance on one
particular vulnerable group was not appropriate in the
current environment of widespread instability and
vulnerability in Iraq. A compromise was reached with the
creation of a UNOHCI-led "Vulnerable Group Task Force". The
Task Force is initiating its activities during the week of
June 16 with the inter-agency assessment of Marsh Arabs.
DART encouraged UNOHCI to take advantage of IOM's DART-
funded "Iraq Transition Initiative" (ITI), through which
several projects benefiting Marsh Arab communities are
already being considered.

9. In discussions with WFP, DART stressed that in terms of
non-registration in the PDS, approaching Marsh Arab
communities from an IDP perspective risked delaying their
receipt of food assistance and did nothing for them in the
long-term. Most of the families in these Marsh Arab
communities have been residents for between six and ten
years and a majority are registered with the PDS. Non-
registration in the PDS has little to do with having been
displaced from the marshes, and much more to do with their
political opposition to the former regime. WFP agreed that
a more direct approach to integrating these families into
the PDS was required, and DART and WFP agreed to return to
Al Amarah on 8 June to address this issue with Ockenden, the
Ministry of Trade (MOT) director, and the Ration
Registration Center (RRC) manager. (Comment: With WFP's
assistance, a decentralized approach to PDS registration has
already been adopted in Al Basrah and An Nasiriyah, both
governorates having significant Marsh Arab populations. In
Al Basrah, the MOT has publicized registration dates and
locations using radio and local information networks.
Representatives from the governorate's RRC have been
traveling to designated registration focal points. Families
are being registered by hand and issued provisional ration
cards. A family's enrollment will become permanent when all
the necessary documentation is submitted and the
registration confirmed by the Central MOT in Baghdad. End

DART AND WFP Travel to Al Amarah

10. On 8 June, DART and WFP staff traveled to Al Amarah.
At the City Council's offices, the group held discussions
with the head of the Al Amarah City Council, who is an
influential figure in both the governorate's Marsh Arab and
non-Marsh Arab communities. The meeting had a very
disagreeable start, with the Sheik expressing his
disappointment with the Coalition forces in general, and his
dismay over the number of "foreigners" who had come to the
governorate "with their paper and pencils" to assess needs,
but whose visits had yielded no tangible assistance. He
indicated that the Council had considered denying
"foreigners" any more access to the governorate because of
the people's disillusionment with both Coalition forces and
the international humanitarian community. WFP's Area
Coordinator (an Egyptian) then reminded the Sheik that they
were both Arabs, there was work to do, and that perhaps
politics could be discussed over tea later. The tension
lifted, and the rest of the discussion went favorably.

11. DART discussed what it had seen in the Marsh Arab
communities on 4 June, describing the looting that had
crippled schools, clinics, and pumping stations, and
requested City Council leader's view as to the value of
rehabilitating this infrastructure at this time of uncertain
security. The City Council leader described how in Al
Amarah, after an initial outburst of destructive protest
against the regime, local leaders had been able to mobilize
the people to secure the town and prepare for the arrival of
Coalition forces as an already liberated city. He indicated
that any resources brought to Maysan communities now would
be well protected, despite the almost total absence of
Coalition forces.

12. WFP presented the idea of an immediate PDS registration
campaign, primarily targeted toward the governorate's Marsh
Arab communities. The City Council leader supported the
idea, but expressed concern that many of the families in
these communities had avoided all contact with the former
regime, and that many of them did not have the official
documentation required by Baghdad for registration. WFP
reiterated that the registration is to be conducted by the
Al Amarah MOT office, and that families will be registered
at the governorate level until such time as an acceptable
and accessible system of identity documentation was
established/re-established for those lacking official birth,
citizenship, and marriage documentation. The City Council
leader offered his assistance in encouraging non-registered
families to come forward. The discussion ended on friendly
terms, with WFP and DART being invited back "if desired."
DART members stated that the next time they visited pencils
and paper would be left in the vehicles.

MOT/Al Amarah and Ration Registration Center

13. DART and WFP proceeded to the MOT/Maysan governorate
central warehouse and administrative offices. After
visiting the warehouse stores, where several food agents
from Al Amarah city were in the process of collecting their
commodities, the group was received by the MOT RRC manager.
The ensuing discussion focused on reports of under-
registration in Marsh Arab communities, and DART's
conversations with tribal leaders during its visit to the
Adl-Al Khair corridor on 4 June. The RRC manager produced a
list of 162 heads of households, the same list discussed by
tribal leaders during DART's 4 June visit. He also
indicated that the number of unregistered individuals in the
Marsh Arab communities was very small, because registration
campaigns were carried out annually. He also expressed
concern about registration procedures, claiming that he
cannot enroll unregistered families without proper
documentation and approval from the Central MOT.

14. WFP explained that families had little recourse for
securing missing identity, citizenship, and/or marriage
documentation. Until families did secure documents,
however, the Coalition Provisional Authority's (CPA) Lower
South office was requesting MOT offices in each governorate
to register families and individuals on a provisional basis.
WFP also explained the steps being taken in Al Basrah and An
Nasiriyah to accomplish this, and promised to bring a letter
from CPA Lower South supporting this effort, which will
provide the approval that the MOT office in Maysan
governorate requested.

15. The RRC manager then summoned the RRC staff member
responsible for registration in the communities previously
visited by DART. Considerable confusion ensued, as the
staff member insisted that the list represented entire
families, not simply individuals, and further, that the list
had not captured all unregistered families, particularly
from the tribal villages south of the town of Al Adl. DART
and WFP then proposed that the RRC manager and staff
accompany them through the Marsh Arab corridor the following
day, to try to determine the exact coverage on the list, as
well as to clarify the question of individual versus family
exclusion from the PDS. The RRC manager held that it was
the offender and not his wife or children who were denied a
ration card. The RRC manager agreed to travel through the
corridor with DART and WFP.
Marsh Arabs Registered as IDPs

16. Following the meeting with the RRC manager, DART and
WFP met with Ockenden representatives. Ockenden's staff is
young and enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about the
Marsh Arabs in Maysan governorate, as well as IDPs arriving
from Kirkuk and Iraqis returning from border areas inside
Iran. Ockenden explained that its objective after it
completed the registration of IDPs in Al Amarah town was to
register all Marsh Arabs, as they, as a group, "have been
determined to be IDPs." (Note: Registration is not linked
to need but status. However, specific needs are noted
during the PDS registration process. End Note.) DART and
WFP questioned Ockenden staff closely about the differences
between Marsh Arab communities and the Marsh Arabs who live
in Al Amarah town. Ockenden indicated that there is a great
variance in the economic standing of Marsh Arab communities
and between rural and urban Marsh Arabs, with wealth being
attached to land ownership, land sales, and wheat

17. WFP asked what Ockenden staff did when they came across
families that were not registered in the PDS. Staff
indicated that this was noted on both the IOM registration
papers and on a registration card left with the families.
Ockenden does not direct families to the MOT RRC for
registration, but informs families that IOM would approach
relevant agencies to provide assistance based on their
registration cards. (Comment: Even though DART and WFP were
concerned by Ockenden's actions regarding registration of
Marsh Arabs as IDPs, they did not pursue the issue in Al
Amarah with Ockenden, deciding that it would have to be
taken up with IOM in Al Basrah. End Comment.)

Al Khaila

18. The final visit on 8 June was to Al Khalia, a non-Marsh
Arab village east of the Maimona "River of Honor". WFP and
DART met with farmers and a food agent serving the village
and families living within an 18-kilometer catchment area.
Wheat farming is the primary source of income in this
region. Some rice is also grown, but rice and sugar cane
played a more significant role in the area's economy prior
to the draining of the marshes. The sugar cane fields and
State-owned sugar refinery reportedly provided employment
for both Marsh Arabs and non-Marsh Arabs. The rice crop,
while owned by farmers, provided seasonal employment to
Marsh Arabs in neighboring communities. Date groves have
also been an important source of income in Maysan

19. The food agent interviewed in Al Khaila reported that
of the 169 families in his catchment area, 50 families are
consistently unable to pay the 250 Iraqi dinars (1,500 ID =
USD 1) per person required for the PDS ration. The majority
of these families does not own land, are not employed, and
must rent their houses. The food agent indicated that these
families would sell a portion of their ration in the market
and repay him when they can. The food agent expressed his
concern that he would not be able to absorb the increasing
transport costs (caused by rising fuel prices and security
concerns), but he also did not want to ask for more than 250
ID per ration. WFP explained that this issue was affecting
food agents throughout southern Iraq. Although the
transport issue was unlikely to be resolved in June, efforts
were being made by the CPA and MOT to increase the
proportion of ration fees allocated to food agents for
transport. Before leaving Al Khaila, WFP national staff
verified the commodity pick-up date of the food agent and
promised to return to interview some of the families he

--------------------------------------------- ------------
Al Nasar Alla and Reasons for Non-Registration in the PDS
--------------------------------------------- ------------

20. On 9 June, WFP and DART returned to Al Amarah to pick
up the RRC manager and staff and proceeded southwest to the
Marsh Arab village of Al Nasar Alla. The group was met by
the leader of the tribe and invited into a central meeting
hall. When the village's male heads of household had
assembled, the RRC manager asked whether there were families
in the village who had not registered in the PDS. The next
hour convinced the RRC manager that, contrary to what he had
expressed in Al Amarah, entire households had been excluded
from the PDS, not simply one offending member. By far, the
most common situation described was when a man, excluded
from the PDS because of desertion or avoiding conscription,
married outside the civil court system because he had no
other choice. (Comment: This situation has been reported as
a reason for non-registration throughout the south and is
not specific to Marsh Arabs. However, ad hoc assessments
indicates that Marsh Arabs were more likely to have avoided
involvement in the military and the marshes, while they
existed, provided good hiding places, resulting in a higher
percentage of unregistered marriages, and therefore under
representation in the PDS. End Comment.) Without civil
recognition of the marriage, his wife and children cannot
therefore be enrolled in the PDS, but the man, still liable
to be prosecuted for avoiding/escaping the military, cannot
seek civil recognition of the marriage.

Provisional Registration

21. DART and WFP questioned tribal members about the issue
of documentation (identity, citizenship, marriage, birth,
etc.) and it quickly became apparent that provisional
enrollment in the PDS would have to be done absent much of
the previously required documentation. The RRC manager
proposed that unregistered members of Al Nasar Alla present
themselves for registration in one of two larger towns south
and north of Al Nasar Alla. The tribal leader replied that
this would be impossible, due to tensions between his tribe
and the tribes in the area of these towns. The RRC decided
to begin the registration process immediately, recording the
names of 20 families not already on the previously collected
list of 162.

--------------------------------------------- --------
Livelihoods Discussion with Al Nasar Alla Marsh Arabs
--------------------------------------------- --------

22. During this PDS registration process, DART and WFP took
the opportunity to question the tribal leader and heads of
households about their lives prior to the draining of the
marshes, their lives now, and what they hope for with the
establishment of a new government. They discussed the role
that fishing had played in terms of income generation, as
well as (in this particular area) seasonal labor in the
cultivation of "amber" rice and sugar cane. Water buffalo
continue to provide a source of income from the sale of its
milk. They reported about the marshes providing them the
materials to construct houses, and how difficult it was now
to find reeds long enough. They were excited by the
increased water flow in the Maimona "River of Honor" since
the Coalition took Al Kut (whose dam controls the water flow
on the river), saying the salinity of the water had
decreased and that the fish were returning.

23. Those interviewed indicated that since the marshes had
been drained, they had been cultivating wheat, which they
appreciated as a source of food and income. When questioned
further, it appeared that the village had not produced much
wheat this year, but wheat cultivation was still considered
important. When asked if they will live in the marshes if
restored to their natural state, the villagers initially
appeared to split their vote. Half said yes, if there were
schools for their children, and half said no, because they
would lose their wheat fields. In the end, all present
agreed that the best alternative would be to have wheat
cultivation and the marshlands.

24. From Al Nasar Alla, DART, WFP, and the RRC drove north
towards Al Khair and Adl, visiting seven villages of
different tribes to determine whether or not targeted PDS
registration will be required. Four of the seven villages
did require registration. The RRC managers requested
assistance from tribal leaders in gathering the names of
unregistered families, and informed them of the day the RRC
will return to register these families. WFP will follow up
to ensure that unregistered families are provisionally
registered and receive rations during June.

Al Majarr al Kabir

25. Before returning to Al Amarah and Al Basrah, the group
stopped in Al Majarr al Kabir, the district headquarters for
the area visited. WFP and the RRC manager briefed officials
about the day's visits, and requested their assistance in
ensuring that information about provisional PDS registration
was disseminated throughout the district. One of the
officials proceeded to produce an IOM registration card (he
had been registered as an IDP) stating that he and his
people had assumed they were already registered because they
had received these "ration cards." WFP explained that in
order to receive PDS rations, the RRC would have to register
the families whose IOM cards indicate that they were not
already registered in the PDS system.

Insecurity Rumors in Al Majarr al Kabir

26. Some of the discussions in Al Majarr al Kabir addressed
the issue of insecurity. According to local officials, two
theories about the Coalition force's role in security were
gaining popularity in Maysan governorate. The first was
that Coalition forces permitted crime and insecurity to
continue as a way of increasing the population's dependence
on the Coalition. The second was that insecurity was
permitted to continue as a way of turning people away from
their religious leaders because religious leadership was not
able to control the insecurity.

Discussions with IOM

27. Returning to Al Basrah, DART and WFP met with IOM's
coordinator for IDP assistance. WFP informed IOM of the
confusion and expectations arising from Ockenden's effort to
register Marsh Arabs as IDPs. The issue of need versus IDP
status was also discussed. IOM's coordinator also indicated
that he had concerns about the purpose of registration at
this point in time. IOM had offered to stop registration in
its last meeting with UNOHCI, but the UNOHCI coordinator for
southern Iraq encouraged IOM to continue the registration

28. DART and WFP stressed the importance of identifying and
addressing needs in Maysan governorate from a community-
based perspective. The most basic of these needs (water,
electricity, and health care) have the potential for
creating and/or strengthening links between Marsh Arab
tribes, and between Marsh Arab and non-Marsh Arab
communities. DART suggested that IOM include its DART-
funded "Iraq Transition Initiative" team in its assessment
and registration of Marsh Arabs, including its participation
in the UNOHCI inter-agency assessment of Marsh Arabs in
Maysan, An Nasiriyah, and Al Basrah governorates. Finally,
DART raised the issue of the lack of documentation in Marsh
Arab communities. Members suggested that, if IOM continues
its registration of Marsh Arabs as IDPs, IOM should do so
with the purpose of assisting Marsh Arabs. The IOM
registration will regularize their identity, citizenship,
and marriage documentation as a crucial element in ensuring
Marsh Arab access to public services and representation in
civil government.


29. As a result of these visits, DART and WFP are following
up on these recommendations:

-- The decentralized, provisional registration of families
that are currently not registered in the PDS should be
accelerated. Emphasis should be placed on Marsh Arab
communities in Al Basrah, Maysan, and Dhi Qar governorates.
WFP will follow up with RRCs at the governorate level and
DART will follow up with CPA Lower South.

-- Community-based quick impact projects addressing needs in
the water, health, and education infrastructure sectors
should be accelerated in Marsh Arab and neighboring non-
Marsh Arab communities in Maysan governorate, and identified
in Al Basrah and An Nasiriyah governorates.

-- IOM and UNOHCI should re-examine their strategy of
registering Marsh Arabs as IDPs. They need to focus their
efforts on developing a program of assistance to address the
documentation needs of Marsh Arabs, as well as other
excluded Iraqis. IOM should involve the Iraq Transition
Initiative in its Marsh Arab assessment activities.

-- Assessments conducted by USAID and UNOHCI of Marsh Arab
communities and the marshes should include an examination of
the extent to which the marshes exist as a shared resource
that provided economic and social security to and between
Marsh Arab and non-Marsh Arab communities.


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