Many believe the marshlands of Mesopotamia in southern Iraq — an area historically known as the fertile crescent — once housed the biblical Garden of Eden. Today they're home to the Ma'dan, a mostly Shia Muslim population more commonly thought of as the Marsh Arabs. They are the 5,000-year-old heirs of the Babylonians and Sumerians.
The social and environmental destruction of the marshes became a priority for the Saddam Hussein regime when Shia rebels used the reed beds as a haven after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
The regime drained the southern marshland and relocated the people who lived there, creating a vast population of internal exiles. Thought to number some 250,000 in 1991, today the Marsh Arabs are believed to number fewer than 40,000.
In the past decade, the vast majority of those reed beds have shriveled into salt flats and open desert, in what the United Nations calls an "environmental catastrophe." Many of the surviving marsh Arabs live in refugee camps or relocated settlements. With the end of Saddam Hussein's regime, a grassroots group, "Eden Again," is trying to bring the marshes, and the people, back.