But this story continues to make me happy.
In the early 1990s, in a move that transformed the face of nature in this country, Saddam Hussein ordered the 7,700-square-mile area drained and its residents attacked to force out Shiite Arabs he suspected of resisting his rule.
Last spring, local engineers began breaking dams and levees upriver to reflood the area.
But what seemed a simple matter of reflooding the marshes has become a task as tangled as the aquatic plants taking root. In the largest and most complex wetlands restoration project undertaken by the U.S. government, scientists and engineers are grappling with problems from dismal water quality and an absence of health care to farmers protesting the reflooding.
The dam-breaking last spring brought some early success. The swamp is teeming with renewed life. Water buffalo lumber through floating algae, and ducks paddle along the surface.
It is an environment in which Abdullah's people, known as the Marsh Arabs, have been living for 5,000 years, since the days of Sumerian civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.