Iraqi environmental activist kidnapped near Baghdad, family says

Jassim Al Asadi, the founder of Nature Iraq, specialised in Iraq's southern marshlands

Jassim Al Asadi (C) launches Iraq's National Campaign to Save the Marshes. Photo: Jassim Al Asadi
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A prominent environmental activist in Iraq has been kidnapped near the capital by an unknown group, his family have said.

Jassim Al Asadi was travelling on the main road linking Baghdad to southern provinces on Wednesday when he was taken captive, his brother Nadhim said in a statement.

"Five kilometres before the capital, two cars stopped him, and armed men in plain clothes handcuffed him and put him on to one of the vehicles, taking him to an unknown location," his brother told AFP on Sunday.

"My cousin was with him," he added. "They left him on the road."

The family has not heard from Mr Al Asadi since and police are investigating, the brother said, adding that the kidnappers had not contacted any relatives.

The motive is still unknown and Iraqi security forces are investigating the case, he said.

Since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Mr Al Asadi has emerged as a leading environmental activist and expert, focusing mainly on Iraq's southern marshlands.

He founded the NGO Nature Iraq in the southern Thi Qar province that has large areas of marshland.

Mr Al Asadi has become one of the few specialists in this field and the main trusted source for researchers and media.

He has been campaigning for more water to be released to the marshland and its inhabitants, launching the National Campaign to Save the Marshes with other activists and marsh residents late last year.

He has blamed the government for not drawing up the plans needed to save the marshes from the effects of climate change.

Some Iraqis have condemned the news, describing the kidnapping as "shocking" and "horrible", and demanding his immediate release.

"Whomever believes that there are moral or political justifications that allow the kidnapping of Jassim Al Asadi will not hesitate to commit what is worse than kidnapping," former water resources minister Hassan Al Janabi wrote on Twitter.

"Save the life of our friend Jassim Al Asadi before it is too late," Mr Al Janabi warned, publishing a photo of Mr Al Asadi during a trip to the marshes in August 2003.

Iraq is the fifth most-vulnerable country in the world to the effects of climate change, according to the UN Environment Programme.

Over the past three years, the country has experienced record temperatures that exceeded 50°C in many places during summer, insufficient and diminishing rainfall and frequent sand and dust storms.

Coupled with the reduced water flow of its two main rivers after passing through Turkey and Iran, the extreme weather has intensified drought and water scarcity in Iraq.

Desertification affects 39 per cent of the country and 54 per cent of its agricultural land has been degraded, mainly due to soil salinity caused by historically low river levels, less rain and rising sea levels.

Updated: February 05, 2023, 2:05 PM