Still facing myriad challenges, Iraq joins CITES

Environment Deputy Minister, Dr. Ali Alami, speaks - on behalf of the Minister of the Environment - in the opening session, in the workshop in Baghdad October 1-2, 2013.Iraq published the CITES convention in its official governmental magazine and soon they will become Party to CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. CITES is the global agreement mandated to effectively eliminate any threat to wild plants and animal species that might result from them being subject to international trade.

The war-torn country is rather known for its continuous struggle to democracy and peace and less for taking a responsible, precautionary role in wildlife conservation and welfare.

For some years though, the Iraqi government has been eager to increase Iraq’s role in nature conservation nationally and internationally.

The CITES ratification is the latest, really big step forward.

The cumbersome process to fulfill all requirements necessary to ratify CITES took Iraq about three years. While that may seem painfully slow, such a time frame is not at all unusual for any country, particularly when development of appropriate legislation and parliamentary decisions are required.

I am proud that my IFAW colleagues from our Middle East and North Africa (MENA) office in Dubai were able to assist their colleagues in the Iraq government in this process and even delivered capacity building workshops already.

Also on IFAW.org: In Baghdad, CITES workshop paves Iraq’s path for membership

The first national training for enforcement officials on the prevention of wildlife trafficking was organized in Sulaymaniyah in January 2012, and the second for Iraqi decision makers took place in Oct. 2013 in Baghdad. And the first time Iraq officials had participated in IFAW training for non-CITES parties in Beirut, was in Lebanon in November of 2009.

It is a good start, but it is not enough.

Consider the problems.

Even though it is prohibited to capture, kill and trade threatened species for five years already in the Kurdish region and for four years across the whole country, these laws are poorly implemented. The ratification of CITES is a turning point for the country, enabling the government to enforce new laws right away.

Whether it be foxes, baboons or monkeys, many bird species, reptiles like crocodiles or big cats like lions; Iraq’s consumers can buy pretty much anything they want. Most of the animals are illegally imported, like young fallow deer, of which in Iraq itself only just a small number has survived in remote areas in the Kurdish region.

I just recently read one grim example in the “Gnusletter”, an expert journal on antelopes: Hunting with advanced automatic rifles and 4x4 vehicles as well as habitat destruction and disturbance were the main threats on the antelope populations in Iraq.

This hunt is labeled as the “most unethical treatment of animals in Iraq” as the hunters kill adult antelopes and sell the just born off-spring as pets on the markets. Much of this hunt is illegal and so is the trade, threatening “the last few populations of antelopes in Iraq.”

Our partnership with Iraq to make this world a better place for animals and people will likely extend beyond CITES.

The government is working to ratify and implement other relevant international agreements, like the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) and the Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). Both are very relevant for Iraq’s contribution to halt the loss of biodiversity and better protect wildlife internationally as well as to restore Iraqi’s own rich nature for future generations.

The protection of the marshes called the "Garden of Eden" was announced in August, 2013. The New Scientist reported it eloquently:

“Last week, amid a wave of bombings on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq's Council of Ministers found time to approve the creation of the country's first national park – the centrepiece of a remarkable restoration of the Mesopotamian marshes in the south of the country.”

With great respect to the people of Iraq who are prioritizing wildlife conservation and well-being in order to reach real sustainability in the future of their shaken country, I am honored if I can assist the Iraqi Ministry of Environment and my Arab colleagues further in their next efforts.

--PP

For more information on IFAW efforts to improve protections for animals around the world, visit our campaign page.

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