Country Profiles

Iraq - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

A draft checklist of species for Iraq, established by the Center for Middle East Plants (CMEP), of the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE), identifies over 4,500 plant species with a secondary list of approximately 195 endemic Iraqi species. Among Iraq’s five primary terrestrial ecoregions, three are considered to be “Critical/Endangered”, two are “Vulnerable”. In particular, 81% of the globally important ecological region “Tigris and Euphrates alluvial salt marsh”, which is of major concern in terms of biodiversity conservation, is contained within Iraq’s borders. A preliminary checklist of the Birds of Iraq includes 417 bird species, of which 182 are considered passage migrants to Iraq, while an additional 27 are considered vagrant species. Five species of birds are either endemic or have endemic races found in Iraq. Of these, 18 species are considered to be of conservation concern, the majority of which are either possible or confirmed breeders. Some 106 species of fish, including freshwater and marine entrant species, have now been recorded in the non-marine waters of Iraq and, of these, 53 species are marine fish. Their development is highly threatened by increasing water pollution. Little current information exists on other globally important fauna species of insects, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. A list of 10 amphibians, 97 reptiles and 74 mammals has been compiled from literature by Nature Iraq. Many are species of conservation concern and several of these may be endemic or near-endemic. Twenty species of mammals are of conservation concern and Iraq has two endemic/semi-endemic species.

Trees such as the Dalbergia sissoo have considerable economic importance for the country in terms of their value in forestry, agroforestry and horticulture. These trees provide timber, fuelwood, fodder, have medicinal value, are used extensively as an ornamental tree as well as for shading, erosion control and soil fertility. Some fish species are also considered of high economic importance, such as the Barbus esocinus for commercial fishing.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Threats to biodiversity in Iraq include illegal and/or unsustainable practices of fishing and hunting; ecosystem conversions, such as the drainage of wetlands for agriculture; municipal and industrial pollution; agricultural chemical impacts; overgrazing; poor water resource management; salinization; road building and development; drought and desertification. In 2003, UNEP listed four main threats to biodiversity in Iraq: (i) lack of an institutional or legal framework for biodiversity conservation; (ii) lack of any effective protected areas network; (iii) lack of a national biodiversity strategy, or action plan; (iv) many species are under threat from ecosystem degradation, especially from the loss of the Mesopotamian marshlands and oil spills. Yet, according to the Iraqi national report, the primary threat to biodiversity is perhaps a simple lack of awareness, among both the general public and within government agencies, about the importance of biodiversity and the environmental services that underlie all human activities within the country.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

Strategic biodiversity objectives and activities have not been officially defined and included in relevant legislation and planning in Iraq. Yet Iraq is defining a “National Environmental Strategy” with support from the World Health Organization, UNEP-ROWA and the UNDP office in Iraq which concerns various environmental aspects, and includes the protection of Iraq’s biodiversity as a core component. The main policy objectives of the Iraqi NBSAP correspond to: review and updating of all national environmental legislation; development of a national law, management plans and a national network for protected areas; pollution remediation and control; EIA and SEA policies for biodiversity; legislation and practical control concerning invasive species; national law for forests, hunting and wild fauna and flora collection and trade; local institutional development and community involvement on environment/agriculture for the sustainable use of biological resources for livelihoods; promotion of local, traditional knowledge and practices to sustainably manage environment and resources; capacity building; economic development through the sustainable use of natural resources. National priorities regarding NBSAP development have been identified as: utilization of the knowledge and experience gained from the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) Project; development of the Mesopotamia Marshlands National Park and the Hawizeh Ramsar wetland; definition of cross-cutting themes and relevant key issues that may guide further research on biodiversity and conservation for the country.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

In regard to the 11 goals and 21 targets contained in the global 2010 Biodiversity Target framework, progress towards five (5) targets is improving, while worsening for four (4) targets; no significant changes have been recorded for three (3) targets and, for nine (9) cases, insufficient information is available to make an evaluation. The Ministry of Environment is working with many partners to designate Iraq’s first national park in the central marshes. A draft management plan exists for this park and the site information is currently being updated in cooperation with the Nature Iraq/New Eden Group. In addition, Iraq also has one designated habitat/species management area (protected area managed mainly for conservation through management intervention), one established informal protected area, and 14 protected areas under the management of the Ministry of Agriculture. The total area of officially‐designated protected areas (natural sites) now covers 0.3% of the country. The marshland area of Hawizeh and the Central Marshes, covered by Iraq’s Ramsar Site Management Plan and the National Park designation, form 9.6% of the global ecological region “Tigris and Euphrates alluvial salt marsh”. Based on the Key Biodiversity Areas Surveys (2005-2010), an initial list of Important Bird Areas and Important Wetland Sites was greatly expanded and an updated list of proposed Key Biodiversity Area sites has been developed and includes 88 sites.

Many biodiversity-related activities have been carried out in Iraq or are still in progress by the Ministry of Environment. Priority is given to the proposed Mesopotamian marshland, which is an internationally important wintering ground for many Eurasian bird species. Other important activities include the development of the Hawizeh Marshlands (Ramsar Site) Management Plan and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) Project. Other strategies and initiatives related to biodiversity include the UNEP Iraqi Marshlands Observation System (IMOS) and its Marshlands Project; Canada-Iraq Marshlands Initiative (CIMI); UNDP projects in the Iraqi marshland areas; World Bank sponsored Iraq Emergency Environmental Management Project (EEMP); and projects supported by USAID. Some polluted sites have been cleaned up and some laws and orders to stop the dumping of waste in the rivers or treat sewage water have been approved. Finally, some improvement has been made regarding the monitoring and analysis of data on the marshes and Key Biodiversity Area sites.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

During the 2007-2010 period, 12 environmental laws and 15 related laws were legislated, while the Environmental Protection and Improvement Law, Forest Law and Law on the Protection of Wild Animals and Birds were updated. In the same period, Iraq joined UNCCD, UNFCCC, CBD, RAMSAR Convention, Basil Convention, UNESCO Convention, Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol, International Agreement on Olive Oil, Regional Commission for Fish Traps. The draft Regulation on Nature Protected Areas and the draft Law for Regulating Hunting Activity are under approval. In 2005, the Ministries of Environment, Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Agriculture, as well as others conducted research on the degradation or decline of forested areas in Iraq. Research on climate change is also being carried out.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Monitoring tools and research initiatives have been launched within the framework of the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) Surveys, Nature Iraq (2004‐2009) Flora of Iraq project, Smithsonian Natural History Museum and the Bar Code of Life research project on aquatic invertebrates. Examples include the development of draft checklists of the country’s birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish, as well as some attempts by the Ministry of Environment, in cooperation with many partners, to implement a Water Quality Index (WQI) and Indices for Biotic Integrity (IBIs) to examine overall water quality and the health of ecosystems. The standardization of a threat assessment methodology was also elaborated through the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) Project.