Iraqi fishermen caught in net across water borders

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Al-Faw (Iraq) (AFP) – On the shores of the Chatt al-Arab waterway, Iraqi fishermen live in constant fear of being arrested by Iranian and Kuwaiti forces for mistakenly crossing borders with former enemy countries.

About 15 kilometers (nine miles) from where the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers merge and empty into the gulf is the fishing port of Al-Faw.

The port city was at the forefront of two wars that shaped Iraq’s modern history – in the 1980s against Iran, and then after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

On the opposite bank of the Shatt al-Arab, the green-white-red flag of Iran flies in the wind, alongside portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic, and his successor as Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

“We have a lot of problems with the Iranians,” said Abdallah, an Iraqi fisherman who preferred not to give his last name.

“If we cross the border because of the current, they stop us.”

In the past, the border along the invisible midline of the Shatt al-Arab was a casus belli.

In September 1980, Saddam’s forces invaded after canceling the 1975 Algiers Accord which sought to end the border disputes.

After the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq and Iran said they wanted to return to the deal, against the backdrop of Iran’s growing influence among its Arab neighbor.

Arrests and fines

Iraqi fishermen from Al-Faw, like Tareq Ziad, complain of being “harassed” by both Iran and Kuwait.

When their boats leave the Shatt al-Arab and head out to sea out to the Gulf, they often find themselves in Kuwaiti and Iranian waters because of the currents.

The Iranians “put you in jail and fined you $ 3,000. That’s what happened to my brother a few days ago. He was arrested by an Iranian river patrol and he paid 3 $ 000, “Ziad said.

Iranian authorities, contacted by AFP, did not respond to a request for comment.

The head of the Al-Faw fishermen’s union, Badran al-Tamimi, said they had “no support from the (Iraqi) government”.

Iraqi men fish in their boat anchored in the Shatt al-Arab waterway next to the wreckage of a ship that sank during the Iraq-Iran war of the 1980s Hussein FALEH AFP

Kuwait is also arresting Iraqi fishermen who “inadvertently” venture into the emirate’s territorial waters, he said.

“Last night I went to the Kuwaiti border to bring back three fishermen who were arrested. This week I have been there three or four times,” Tamimi said.

A Kuwaiti security official, on condition of anonymity, told AFP: “Those seized in border areas are being handed over, in good health, by the ground forces, in coordination with the Iraqi side.”

Marine species in rivers

Al-Faw fishermen also face environmental challenges.

“We go to sea for eight to ten days and on our return, we fished between 500 kilograms and one tonne, against three or four tonnes 20 years ago,” complains fisherman Abdallah.

Fishing expeditions have become much shorter and the borders are closely guarded by Iraq’s neighbors.

Head of Al-Faw Fishermen's Union, Badran al-Tamimi
Head of Al-Faw Fishermen’s Union, Badran al-Tamimi Hussein FALEH AFP

In addition, the price of fuel has skyrocketed.

As Iraqi rivers dry up due to drought and dam construction in Iran and Turkey, the amount of seasonal fish that locals depended on for food is also drying up.

And as the waters of the river descend to lower and lower levels, the gulf rises.

“We are seeing more and more marine species in the river as the water turns saline,” said Iyad Abdelmohsen, marine biologist at Al-Mustansiriyah University in Baghdad.

And “human activities, such as sewage and garbage” that end up in Iraqi waterways cause “digestive diseases, diarrhea and even cholera,” he said.


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