Passport
Full Episode
Braving Iraq

In the 1990s, the Mesopotamian Marshes were virtually destroyed by Saddam Hussein in an attempt to eradicate the Marsh Arabs who lived there. Once the richest wildlife habitat in the Middle East, this “Garden of Eden” was reduced to mile after mile of scorched earth. But Azzam Alwash is making an extraordinary effort to return life to the green paradise he remembers from his childhood. Follow filmmakers David Johnson and Stephen Foote as they chronicle Azzam’s efforts — and navigate the inherent dangers of working in a dangerous and politically volatile region.

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WE HAD AN OPPORTUNITY HERE TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT A HIDDEN PART OF IRAQ, A PIECE OF IRAQ THAT PEOPLE GENERALLY ARE COMPLETELY UNAWARE OF.

Man: WE'VE GOT A TEN-MAN SECURITY TEAM WORKING WITH US AND ON TOP OF THAT WE'VE ALSO GOT THE TACTICAL SUPPORT UNIT OF THE IRAQI POLICE, SO IT'S QUITE A BIG OPERATION, REALLY.

Man: LOOK AT THIS! IT'S JUST AMAZING WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU LET WATER BACK IN.

IT MAKES IT WORTHWHILE, ALL THE SACRIFICES.

Man: THIS IS A FILM THAT WAS WORTH MAKING AND THE RISKS INVOLVED WERE WORTH TAKING.

LOOKING AT ITS LANDSCAPE, YOU WOULDN'T IMAGINE SOUTHERN IRAQ HAD BEEN HOME TO ONE OF THE WORLD'S MOST IMPORTANT WETLANDS.

BUT AS RECENTLY AS THE 1980s, THIS... LOOKED LIKE THIS... AN ENORMOUS MARSHLAND, 6,000 SQUARE MILES IN AREA.

FED BY THE COMBINED WATERS OF THE TIGRIS AND EUPHRATES RIVERS, IT DOMINATED SOUTHERN IRAQ.

IT WAS KNOWN AS THE MESOPOTAMIAN MARSHES, AND MANY BIBLICAL SCHOLARS BELIEVE IT WAS THE ORIGINAL GARDEN OF EDEN.

WHAT'S CERTAIN IS THAT, FOR OVER 7,000 YEARS, IT WAS A UNIQUE HABITAT OF GLOBAL IMPORTANCE, WHERE WILDLIFE AND PEOPLE LIVED IN HARMONY.

THEN, IN THE 1990s, THE MARSHES WERE VIRTUALLY DESTROYED BY SADDAM HUSSEIN IN AN ATTEMPT TO ERADICATE THE INDIGENOUS MARSH ARABS.

DRAINED OF WATER, THE REGION'S BIGGEST WETLAND WAS TURNED TO DUST... AN INTERDEPENDENT COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE AND WILDLIFE WIPED OUT.

SINCE THE FALL OF SADDAM, HOWEVER, THERE'S BEEN A CONCERTED EFFORT TO RE-CREATE THE MARSHES.

MY NAME'S DAVID JOHNSON.

TOGETHER WITH CAMERAMAN STEVE FOOTE, I'VE DECIDED TO BRAVE THE VIOLENCE AND CHAOS THAT STILL BEDEVIL IRAQ, TO SEE IF THE MARSHES CAN BE RESTORED, AND TO MEET AZZAM ALWASH, WHO IS DRIVING WHAT IS, IN EFFECT, THE BIGGEST HABITAT RE-CREATION PROJECT IN THE WORLD.

STEVE AND I ALSO WANT TO SEE IF THIS WETLAND'S AMAZING VARIETY OF WILDLIFE STILL EXISTS.

[ LOWING ] THE MARSHES WERE OF CRUCIAL IMPORTANCE TO A WIDE VARIETY OF BIRDS, PROVIDING A VITAL HABITAT CORRIDOR FOR THEIR MIGRATIONS.

MARBLED TEAL, LIKE THESE FILMED IN NEIGHBORING TURKEY, RELY ON MARSHLANDS TO OVERWINTER AND BREED.

THE DRAINING OF THE MESOPOTAMIAN MARSHES HELPED MAKE THEM A GLOBALLY THREATENED SPECIES.

IT'S A SIMILAR STORY WITH THE BASRA REED WARBLER.

IT TAKES ITS NAME FROM THE NEARBY CITY OF BASRA AND IS RARELY SEEN OUT OF THE REGION EXCEPT ON MIGRATION TO EAST AFRICA.

WITH ITS BREEDING GROUNDS VIRTUALLY DESTROYED, WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT'S HAPPENED TO THIS ENDANGERED BIRD.

OUR MISSION SOUNDS STRAIGHTFORWARD, BUT THAT'S WITHOUT THE IRAQ FACTOR.

SINCE THE 2003 INVASION, THIS COUNTRY HAS BEEN TORN APART BY VIOLENCE AND CIVIL WAR.

HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE HAVE DIED.

SO WHY HAVE WE RISKED IT?

WE HAD AN OPPORTUNITY HERE TO MAKE A FILM ABOUT A HIDDEN PART OF IRAQ, A PIECE OF IRAQ THAT PEOPLE GENERALLY ARE COMPLETELY UNAWARE OF, AND HOPEFULLY A POSITIVE STORY IN THE FINAL ANALYSIS ABOUT A PART OF THE WORLD THAT JUST DOESN'T GET A LOT OF POSITIVE PRESS.

I FELT THAT THIS WAS A FILM THAT WAS ACTUALLY WORTH MAKING AND THE RISKS INVOLVED WERE WORTH TAKING.

AND AT THE END OF THE DAY, THIS FILM IS NOT ABOUT THE BANG-BANG, IT'S ABOUT THE TWEET-TWEET.

Johnson: BEFORE STEVE AND I COULD EVEN SET FOOT IN IRAQ, WE HAD TO HAVE SPECIFIC TRAINING ON WORKING IN A HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT.

IT COVERED EVERYTHING FROM COMBAT FIRST AID AND SURVIVAL TECHNIQUES TO WEAPONS RECOGNITION AND DEALING WITH KIDNAPPING.

BUT NOTHING REALLY PREPARES YOU FOR THE REALITY OF A PLACE LIKE IRAQ.

WE TRAVEL EVERYWHERE IN SPECIALLY ADAPTED LAND CRUISERS, FITTED WITH PLATE ARMOR AND BULLET-PROOF GLASS.

AND WE'RE ACCOMPANIED BY A PRIVATE SECURITY TEAM, EQUIPPED TO DEAL WITH ALL EVENTUALITIES.

OUR QUARTERS WILL BE THE TWO U.S. AIRBASES IN THE SOUTH OF IRAQ, AND IT'S PRETTY CLEAR WHEN WE ARRIVE AT THE BASRA BASE THAT IT'S A MILLION MILES AWAY FROM THE COMFORTS OF HOME.

PRETTY MUCH THE FIRST THING THAT HAPPENS IS YOU GET A BIG SAFETY BRIEFING ABOUT ROCKET ATTACKS AND WHAT TO DO IN THE EVENT THAT THE ALARMS GO OFF.

SEVEN ROCKETS WERE FIRED INTO THE BASE THE NIGHT BEFORE LAST.

IT'S, YOU KNOW, THIS IS REAL, THIS IS HAPPENING.

Johnson: ONLY WITH ALL THESE PRECAUTIONS IN PLACE CAN WE FINALLY START MAKING THE FILM.

OUR FIRST PRIORITY IS TO MEET THE MAN WHO IS AT THE CENTER OF THE ENORMOUS PROJECT TO RE-ESTABLISH THIS UNIQUE WETLAND -- AZZAM ALWASH.

AZZAM GREW UP IN THE TOWN OF NASRIYAH, ON THE BANKS OF THE EUPHRATES.

AS A BOY HE ACCOMPANIED HIS FATHER, A GOVERNMENT WATER ENGINEER, ON MANY TRIPS INTO THE MARSHES.

NO PHOTOS EXIST OF THOSE TRIPS, BUT THESE STILLS, PUBLISHED AROUND THE SAME TIME, CAPTURE A FLAVOR OF THE ENVIRONMENT HE ENCOUNTERED.

Azzam: MY MEMORY OF THOSE BOAT TRIPS IS THAT WE ARE PASSING THROUGH THESE PASSAGEWAYS THAT ARE SURROUNDED WITH REED BEDS THAT, TO MY MIND'S EYE, EXTENDED TO THE SKY.

THESE WERE TOWERING REEDS.

I REMEMBER LEANING OVER THE OUTSIDE OF THE BOAT, AND LOOKING INTO THIS CLEAR WATER AND SEEING FISH.

AND I REMEMBER HEAT... AND EVERY NOW AND THEN WE'D GO OUT OF THESE MEANDERING RIVERS INTO THESE WIDE LAKES, AND SUDDENLY THERE'S THIS BREEZE THAT COMES INTO YOU THAT COOLS YOU DOWN.

WHAT I REMEMBER IS A SENSE OF SERENITY, A SENSE OF WARMTH, A SENSE OF LOVE, A SENSE OF BEING WITH MY FATHER, ENJOYING A UNIQUE PLACE.

Johnson: AZZAM TREASURED THOSE MEMORIES, MORE SO AFTER FLEEING SADDAM'S REGIME AND SETTLING IN THE U.S.A.

[ BLASTING, GUNFIRE ] THEN IN THE WAKE OF THE 2003 INVASION, HE TOOK TIME OUT FROM HIS THRIVING ENGINEERING PRACTICE TO RETURN TO IRAQ AND SEE WHAT HAD HAPPENED TO HIS BELOVED MARSHES.

BUT NOTHING PREPARED HIM FOR WHAT HE FOUND WHEN HE ARRIVED.

Azzam: THE FIRST TIME I SAW THE DRIED MARSHES, THE DRIED CENTRAL MARSHES, IT WAS LITERALLY A PHYSICAL BLOW.

IT WAS PAINFUL.

SEEING A PLACE THAT YOU GREW UP IN, THAT YOU HAVE KEPT IN YOUR MEMORIES, GREEN, FULL OF LIFE, BIRDS, AND IT'S A DESERT, IT'S DEAD.

AND THEN YOU LOOK AT THE DESTROYED HOMES, YOU LOOK AT THE REMNANTS OF BOATS, AND YOU WONDER ABOUT THE LOSS FOR THE PEOPLE, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Johnson: THE INDIGENOUS MADAN TRIBES HAD RELIED ON THE MARSHES FOR THEIR LIVELIHOOD.

BUT AS THESE SATELLITE IMAGES SHOW, THE MARSHES, ONCE OVER TWICE THE SIZE OF THE EVERGLADES, HAD SHRUNK TO LESS THAN 10% OF THEIR ORIGINAL AREA -- FAR TOO SMALL TO SUSTAIN THE LOCAL POPULATION.

STARVING, AND TERRORIZED BY SADDAM'S TROOPS, THE MARSH ARAB POPULATION COLLAPSED FROM A QUARTER OF A MILLION TO JUST A FEW THOUSAND.

FLEEING TO ELSEWHERE IN IRAQ, IRAN, OR FURTHER AFIELD, MOST, LIKE FADHILA JABBAH, THOUGHT THEIR WAY OF LIFE HAD GONE FOREVER.

[ JABBAH SPEAKING ARABIC ] Johnson: BUT AFTER SADDAM'S FALL IN 2003, A RETURN DID, INDEED, BECOME POSSIBLE.

AZZAM, FOLLOWING UP ON HIS FATHER'S OLD CONTACTS, HEADED FOR AL CABA'ISH IN THE CENTRAL MARSHES.

SO, FOLLOWING IN HIS FOOTSTEPS, IT'S OUR NEXT DESTINATION, TOO.

OF COURSE, THE SECURITY SITUATION MEANS IT'S EASIER SAID THAN DONE.

DISGUISED AS ROADSIDE DEBRIS, IMPROVISED EXPLOSIVE DEVICES, OR 'IEDs,' ARE OFTEN USED TO ATTACK THE SECURITY FORCES.

SADLY, PRIVATE SECURITY TEAMS LIKE OURS ALSO CONSTITUTE A LEGITIMATE TARGET.

THE OTHER MAIN RISK WE FACE IS KIDNAP, A PROSPECT THAT'S RARE BUT NO LESS UNNERVING FOR IT.

TO MINIMIZE BOTH THREATS, WE VARY OUR ROUTE EVERY DAY AND TRY TO AVOID GOING TO THE SAME LOCATION TWO DAYS RUNNING, OR ESTABLISHING ANY KIND OF PATTERN AT ALL.

WELL, WE ACTUALLY LEFT OUR BASE OVER AN HOUR AGO, BUT WE'RE ONLY CALLING AZZAM NOW BECAUSE, FROM A SECURITY POINT OF VIEW, WE CAN'T TALK ABOUT THINGS IN ADVANCE -- IT'S VERY MUCH ON A NEED-TO-KNOW BASIS.

YOU KNOW, REALLY MINIMIZES THE RISK OF KIDNAP IF WE LEAVE EVERYTHING TO THE LAST MOMENT.

MAKES OUR LIVES MORE DIFFICULT FROM A PLANNING POINT OF VIEW, BUT IT KEEPS US SAFE.

Johnson: IT'S OVER TWO HOURS BEFORE WE FINALLY REACH AL CABA'ISH.

IT USED TO BE AT THE HEART OF THE CENTRAL MARSHES, BUT NOW IT'S DRY AND DUSTY, CUT OFF FROM THE EUPHRATES RIVER BY AN ENORMOUS EMBANKMENT.

Azzam: IF YOU CAME BEFORE THE EMBANKMENT WAS BUILT, THIS WAS ALL MARSH, THIS WAS REED BEDS ALL THE WAY AS FAR AS THE EYE CAN SEE, THIS WAS WHERE THE WATER BUFFALO FROLICKED AND LIVED.

NOW WE COME BACK IN 2003 -- WELL, THIS IS ESSENTIALLY WHAT YOU SEE -- DESERT PLANT, TAMARIX, THE WATER WORLD HAD DISAPPEARED, DISAPPEARED.

Johnson: THIS EMBANKMENT -- AND ITS TWIN ON THE FAR SHORE -- ARE RELICS OF THE ENORMOUS ENGINEERING WORKS CARRIED OUT BY SADDAM TO DRAIN THE MARSHES DRY.

45 MILES LONG AND OVER 20 FEET HIGH, THEY WERE BUILT TO PREVENT THE EUPHRATES EVER FLOODING THIS SECTION OF THE MARSHES.

Azzam: EVERY PIECE OF DIRT THAT WAS USED TO BUILD THESE EMBANKMENTS WAS IMPORTED FROM THE DESERT.

YOU CAN IMAGINE THE AMOUNT OF MONEY THAT WAS SPENT IN ORDER TO PREVENT THE MARSHES FROM EVER COMING BACK TO LIFE.

Johnson: BUT THIS IS JUST A SMALL PART OF THE WORK SADDAM CARRIED OUT.

ALTHOUGH IT LOOKS LIKE A RIVER, THIS IS IN FACT A CANAL -- PART OF THE NETWORK BUILT BY SADDAM TO CHANNEL WATER AROUND THE MARSHES, FUNNELING IT STRAIGHT TO THE ARABIAN GULF OVER 150 MILES TO THE SOUTH.

SEEING SADDAM'S NETWORK OF CANALS AT FIRST HAND, I AM STRUCK BY JUST THE SHEER SCALE OF THE WORK.

IT'S AS BREATHTAKING AS IT IS DEPRESSING.

HOWEVER, THE MARSH ARABS WHO RETURNED AFTER SADDAM'S OVERTHROW WERE RESOLUTE IN THEIR DETERMINATION TO RE-FLOOD THE MARSHES.

THEY DUG BREACHES IN THE CANAL WALLS, BUT IN MANY CASES THE EMBANKMENTS WERE JUST TOO BIG FOR THEM TO TACKLE.

BACK IN AL CABA'ISH, AZZAM WAS UNDETERRED.

Azzam: THE EUPHRATES IS RIGHT HERE IN THE BACKGROUND AND WE MOBILIZED AN EXCAVATOR AND STARTED DIGGING A TRENCH, THE TRENCH GOT TO THE WATER LEVEL AND THEN THE WATER TOOK CARE OF THE REST OF THE PROBLEM.

AS SOON AS THE WATER STARTED FLOWING, IT STARTED UNDERMINING THE EMBANKMENT AND BASICALLY MADE THIS EXCAVATION THE WIDTH THAT IT IS, AND SIX MONTHS LATER, REEDS WERE COMING BACK UP AND IT WAS AMAZING, IT WAS INCREDIBLE, REALLY.

Johnson: THE SEEDS HAD SURVIVED NEARLY A DECADE OF DROUGHT, AND, TRIGGERED BY THE RETURN OF WATER, NEW REED BEDS SPRANG UP RIGHT ACROSS THE REGION.

IT WAS A FANTASTIC DEMONSTRATION OF NATURE'S ABILITY TO RECOVER FROM THE WORST OF DISASTERS.

EVEN THOUGH OUR FIRST SIGHT OF THE MARSHES IS IN MID-WINTER, IT'S STRIKING JUST HOW LARGE THE REED BEDS ARE AND HOW VARIED THE BIRD LIFE IS.

PIED KINGFISHERS ARE EVERYWHERE.

CAPABLE OF HOVERING FOR LONG PERIODS IN SEARCH OF PREY, THEY CAN SWALLOW SMALL FISH IN FLIGHT -- AN ABILITY THAT ALLOWS THEM TO THRIVE AMIDST REED BEDS THAT OFFER FEW SOLID PERCHES.

WE SEE THEM NESTING IN THE EMBANKMENTS BUILT BY SADDAM, AND IT'S OBVIOUS THE SPECIES HAS THRIVED.

EQUALLY PREVALENT ARE BLACK-WINGED STILTS.

WITH THEIR DISTINCTIVE RED LEGS, THEY PATROL SHALLOW AREAS, ON THE PROWL FOR WORMS AND SMALL FISH.

PYGMY CORMORANTS, A SPECIES EXCLUSIVE TO SOUTHEAST EUROPE, CENTRAL ASIA, AND THE MIDDLE EAST, ARE THRIVING.

WE ALSO CHANCE UPON WINTERING MIGRANT BIRDS, LIKE THIS JUVENILE IMPERIAL EAGLE, WHICH MAY HAVE TRAVELED HERE FROM AS FAR AWAY AS CENTRAL RUSSIA.

AND IN A HAPPY ECHO OF THAT 1980s ARCHIVE FOOTAGE, WE SPOT A LARGE FLOCK OF GREAT WHITE PELICANS.

Foote: THE MARSHES ARE LIKE -- WELL, THEY'RE CALLED THE GARDEN OF EDEN, AREN'T THEY?

I MEAN, IT IS JUST EXTRAORDINARY.

IT IS JUST SUCH A PEACEFUL, PEACEFUL PLACE.

Johnson: IT'S AN INCREDIBLY RELAXING EXPERIENCE.

IN FACT, OUT IN THE BOAT, IT'S EASY TO FORGET WE'RE IN IRAQ AT ALL.

ANOTHER DELIGHT IS SEEING JUST HOW MANY OF THE MARSH ARABS HAVE DECIDED TO RETURN TO THE AREA -- PEOPLE LIKE HAMMED SARSAR.

[ SARSAR SPEAKING ARABIC ] Johnson: WITH WILDLIFE AND REEDS RE-ESTABLISHED, THE MARSH ARAB WAY OF LIFE IS RISING FROM THE ASHES.

Azzam: FROM THE REEDS, THEY BUILD THEIR OWN ISLANDS UPON WHICH THEY BUILD THEIR HOUSES.

FROM THE REEDS THEY MAKE MATS FOR TRADING AND BARTERING.

FROM THE YOUNG REEDS THEY FEED THEIR WATER BUFFALO.

FROM THE DRIED REEDS THEY BAKE THEIR BREADS.

IT'S THE TRUNK UPON WHICH MARSH ARAB'S LIFE IS BUILT.

Johnson: STEVE AND I ALSO BENEFIT FROM THIS PLANT'S INHERENT STRENGTH.

GETTING PANORAMIC SHOTS OUT HERE IS DIFFICULT BECAUSE IT'S SO FLAT... AND STEVE HAS TO MAKE USE OF WHATEVER HIGH POINT HE CAN FIND.

OUT IN THE MARSHES, THE ONLY WAY WE CAN ACHIEVE THE SAME KIND OF PHOTOGRAPHY IS BY GETTING THE LOCALS TO BUILD PLATFORMS FOR US OUT OF REEDS.

Foote: IT'S VERY STRONG, AND IT'S ACTUALLY QUITE STURDY, BUT WE'VE MANAGED TO SUCCESSFULLY FILM SOME BIRDS FROM IT THIS MORNING, AND I THINK IT'S A TESTAMENT TO THE BUILDING MATERIAL ITSELF.

Johnson: IT'S NOT ALL BEEN GOOD NEWS.

A HELICOPTER RIDE COURTESY OF THE U.S. MILITARY REVEALS THAT THE RESTORATION HAS BEEN PATCHY AND SPORADIC.

IT'S A FAR CRY FROM THE ENDLESS WETLANDS THAT AZZAM KNEW AS A CHILD.

AND THE SITUATION WAS EVEN WORSE IN 2004.

PEOPLE WERE REFLOODING INDIVIDUAL SECTIONS OF MARSHLAND, BUT THERE WAS NO COORDINATION BETWEEN DIFFERENT AREAS AND NO ONE WITH A COHERENT PLAN TO ENSURE THE MARSH'S LONG-TERM FUTURE.

HAVING PLAYED A PART IN RESTORING ONE AREA, AZZAM DECIDED TO SET UP AN ORGANIZATION TO ADDRESS THIS BIGGER PICTURE.

SHUTTLING BETWEEN HIS FAMILY IN CALIFORNIA AND WORK IN IRAQ, HE HAS ESTABLISHED A CONSERVATION ORGANIZATION, 'NATURE IRAQ,' AND SINCE 2004 THEY'VE WORKED HARD TO PROMOTE THE CAUSE OF THE MARSHES AND THE MARSH ARABS.

Azzam: SOME PEOPLE THINK THAT WE'RE SILLY, WORKING ON THE MARSHES IN THE MIDDLE OF CIVIL INSURRECTION, IN THE MIDDLE OF KIDNAPPING GANGS AND WHAT HAVE YOU.

WE TAKE OUR PRECAUTIONS, WE TRY TO PROTECT OUR PEOPLE AS MUCH AS WE CAN, BUT, YOU KNOW, LIFE CANNOT STOP WAITING FOR THE CIVIL WAR TO BE FINISHED -- THERE'S WORK TO BE DONE AND THERE IS A NEXT GENERATION TO EDUCATE.

Johnson: AZZAM WANTS TO ESTABLISH IRAQ'S FIRST NATIONAL PARK IN THE CENTRAL MARSHES, USING THE WILDLIFE AS ITS MAIN ATTRACTION.

IT'S ALL PART OF HIS PLAN TO SECURE THE LONG-TERM FUTURE OF THE REGION.

Azzam: IT IS MY DREAM TO HAVE THIS AREA BECOME AN ECO-TOURISM MECCA, AS WELL AS AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL MECCA FOR TOURISTS.

I SEE PEOPLE ARRIVING IN PLANE LOADS, AND EVEN BEFORE MAKING IT TO THE HOTEL, VISITING THE OLDEST CITY IN THE WORLD, UR, VISITING ABRAHAM'S HOUSE, VISITING THE ROYAL TOMBS.

AND THE NEXT DAY WE WOULD TAKE THEM INTO STAYING IN LODGES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE MARSHES, TAKING THEM ON KAYAK TRIPS TO SEE RARE BIRDS.

THIS HAS TO BE A PLACE WHERE THE REST OF THE WORLD HAS TO SEE SO THAT THEY CAN HELP US MAINTAIN IT FOR THE NEXT GENERATION.

Johnson: HMM... IT TAKES QUITE A LEAP OF IMAGINATION TO SHARE THIS VISION OF AZZAM'S.

IT'S JUST GONE HALF PAST 5:00 IN THE MORNING.

A LITTLE BIT EARLIER THAN I WOULD PREFER TO BE UP, BUT THERE HAS BEEN SOME INTELLIGENCE THAT THERE ARE SOME IEDs OUT ON SOME OF THE ROADS THAT WE'RE TRAVELLING.

WE'RE HOPING TO GET OUT AND EARLY BEFORE REALLY ANY OF THE INSURGENTS ARE UP AND ABOUT AND HOPEFULLY THAT WILL KEEP US SAFE.

SLIGHTLY NERVE-RACKING... BUT ALL PART OF THE FUN OF WORKING IN IRAQ.

BOMBS ARE ONE OF THE REASONS OUR SECURITY TEAM RELIES ON SO MANY VEHICLES.

THE SCOUT CAR TRAVELS FIRST, FOLLOWED BY OUR 4x4.

IF EITHER OF US BREAKDOWN, OR ARE BLOWN UP, THE THIRD CAR IS THERE TO PICK UP THE PIECES.

THE FOURTH VEHICLE CARRIES ALL THE HEAVY WEAPONS.

IT'S THEIR JOB TO EXTRICATE US WHEN THE BULLETS START FLYING.

THANKFULLY, WE DON'T ENCOUNTER ANY BOMBS WHILE MAKING THE FILM, BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN THE RISK IS OVERSTATED.

IN THE FIRST SIX MONTHS OF 2010, THERE ARE, ON AVERAGE, MORE THAN TWO VIOLENT INCIDENTS A DAY JUST IN THE REGION WE'RE WORKING IN.

ABOUT HALF OF THOSE ARE ROADSIDE OR VEHICLE-BORNE EXPLOSIONS, INCLUDING ONE THAT GOES OFF JUST OUTSIDE A MILITARY BASE WE'RE STAYING AT.

EVEN IF IRAQ BECOMES A STABLE AND PEACEFUL PLACE, AZZAM KNOWS HE NEEDS TO CONVINCE THE LOCALS, INVESTORS, AND POTENTIAL VISITORS THAT THE MARSHES DO HAVE A LONG-TERM FUTURE AND THAT THE WILDLIFE IS HERE TO STAY.

WHICH IS ONE OF THE REASONS 'NATURE IRAQ' REGULARLY SENDS SURVEY TEAMS INTO THE MARSHES, AND WINTER IS A CRUCIAL TIME OF YEAR FOR MONITORING ACTIVITY HERE.

MANY BIRDS, LIKE THESE SPANISH AND DEAD SEA SPARROWS, RELY ON THIS WETLAND TO FEED AND ROOST IN WINTER.

AND IT'S A KEY WATERING HOLE FOR MILLIONS OF MIGRANTS ON THE LONG, HAZARDOUS JOURNEY BETWEEN EURASIA AND AFRICA.

BY RECORDING THE NUMBERS AND DIFFERENT SPECIES OF BIRDS PASSING THROUGH, THE SURVEY TEAMS WILL ABLE TO ASSESS THE GENERAL HEALTH OF SPECIFIC POPULATIONS, A GOOD INDICATOR OF THE OVERALL CONDITION OF THE MARSHES THEMSELVES.

AND THERE'S EXCITING NEWS.

ACCORDING TO SOME LOCAL FISHERMEN, A LARGE FLOCK OF MARBLED TEAL HAS BEEN SPOTTED IN THE CENTRAL MARSHES.

THIS ENDANGERED SPECIES HASN'T BEEN SEEN IN THIS AREA FOR 20 YEARS, SO WE'VE JOINED AZZAM AND CHIEF ORNITHOLOGIST MUDHAFAR SALIM TO SEE IF IT'S TRUE.

IT TAKES US HALF AN HOUR TO REACH THE LAKE WHERE THE TEAL ARE SUPPOSED TO BE.

IF THE REPORTS ARE ACCURATE, IT SHOULD JUST BE A QUESTION OF PATIENCE.

[ MEN SPEAKING ARABIC ] INCREDIBLE!

WOW!

[ LAUGHING ] Johnson: WE'RE IN LUCK.

Azzam: INCREDIBLE.

Johnson: A FLOCK OF MARBLED TEAL IS CONGREGATING ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE LAKE.

[ AZZAM LAUGHING ] WHAT'S REALLY EXCITING IS THAT THERE ARE FAR MORE TEAL THAN WE EXPECTED.

Azzam: YOU'VE GOT TO SEE THIS.

OH, MY GOD! OH, MY GOD!

[ LAUGHTER ] [ LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE ] OH, MY GOD, LOOK AT THIS!

LOOK AT THIS! JESUS!

[ SPEAKING ARABIC ] THAT IS INCREDIBLE.

[ LAUGHTER ] Azzam: IF YOU WERE HERE IN 2004, 2005, WHEN THE WATER FIRST ARRIVED, YOU WOULD HAVE SEEN DESERT AND NOTHING BUT TAMARISK.

AND TODAY YOU SEE REEDS -- YEAH, IT'S WINTER AND IT'S YELLOW, IT'S NOT AS LIGHT, BUT THE MOST BEAUTIFUL THING IS THE FACT YOU HAVE, I DON'T KNOW, 20,000?

HE SAYS 20,000, I HAVE NO IDEA.

I JUST KNOW IT'S A BLACK CLOUD OF BIRDS AND IT'S FILLING THE SKY!

AND IT'S JUST AMAZING WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU LET WATER BACK IN.

IT MAKES IT WORTHWHILE, ALL THE SACRIFICES, MISSING MY CHILDREN'S BIRTHDAYS, MISSING MY WIFE'S BIRTHDAY, MISSING AN ANNIVERSARY, MISSING THE GIRL'S GRADUATION... YOU KNOW?

WHEN MY KIDS AND MY GRANDKIDS COME HERE, AND WE TALK ABOUT THE MISSED OPPORTUNITIES, THERE'S SOMETHING I CAN POINT TO AS, 'THIS IS THE REASON WHY.'

Johnson: IT'S AN AMAZING MOMENT.

AND THE SIGHT OF SO MANY BIRDS CONVINCES ME THIS COULD ACTUALLY BECOME AN ECO-TOURIST DESTINATION IN THE FUTURE.

ANALYZING THE PHOTOGRAPHS LATER, THE TEAM REVISE THEIR ESTIMATES OF TEAL NUMBERS UPWARDS.

THEY NOW THINK THERE ARE OVER 40,000 IN THE MARSHES THIS WINTER, FIVE TIMES THE PREVIOUS HIGHEST COUNT AND ALMOST DOUBLE THE PREVIOUS ESTIMATES OF THE WORLD POPULATION.

BUT WE AREN'T THE ONLY PEOPLE TO SPOT THE TEAL.

THESE MEN ARE HUNTERS, ATTEMPTING TO BAG A FEW BIRDS FOR THE POT.

[ GUNSHOTS ] SURROUNDED BY A GROUP OF EXCITED CONSERVATIONISTS, I HALF EXPECT US TO RUSH OFF AND CONFRONT THEM.

BUT AZZAM KNOWS THAT A BALANCE HAS TO BE STRUCK BETWEEN THE NEEDS OF THE WILDLIFE AND THOSE OF THE MARSH ARABS.

Azzam: WE'RE NOT GOING TO PREVENT PEOPLE FROM GOING IN THERE AND HUNTING, WE'RE NOT GOING TO PREVENT PEOPLE FROM GOING IN THERE AND FISHING.

IT'S THEIR LAND, IT'S THEIR AREA, THEY CAN GO IN THERE AND FISH ALL THEY WANT.

THE FACT IS THE MARSHES NEED TO BE RESTORED, BUT NEED TO BE RESTORED FOR THE PEOPLE, NOT FOR NATURE, PER SE.

BUT BOTH CAN BENEFIT FROM THIS.

Johnson: IT'S EARLY APRIL AND WE'RE BACK TO SEE WHAT EFFECT THE SPRING FLOODS HAVE HAD AND TO FILM SOME OF THE MARSH'S RESIDENT WILDLIFE.

TO GIVE US THE BEST CHANCE OF ACTUALLY SEEING ANY, OUR SECURITY TEAM HAS WORKED HARD TO SET UP A ONE-OFF OVERNIGHT IN AL-CABA'ISH.

IT WILL ALLOW US TO FILM AT SUNSET -- AND WHEN THE BIRDS AND AMPHIBIANS ARE MOST PREVALENT.

THE BENEFITS ARE IMMEDIATELY APPARENT.

THE RESIDENT MARSH FROGS TREAT US NOT JUST TO A CHORUS, BUT TO A MATING DISPLAY, AS WELL.

GOOD, THIS IS ALL GOOD STUFF.

LATER, WHEN WE SEE THE ARRANGEMENTS REQUIRED FOR THE OVERNIGHT, IT'S PRETTY CLEAR WHY WE CAN'T DO THIS ALL THE TIME.

Foote: WE'VE GOT A TEN-MAN SECURITY TEAM WORKING WITH US.

AND ON TOP OF THAT, WE'VE ALSO GOT THE 'TSU,' WHICH IS THE TACTICAL SUPPORT UNIT OF THE IRAQI POLICE, GUARDING US, SO IT'S QUITE A BIG OPERATION, REALLY.

Johnson: SLIGHTLY SURREAL, CONSIDERING REALLY THEY'RE ONLY LOOKING AFTER STEVE AND I, SO WE'RE IN THIS BIZARRE POSITION WHERE THERE ARE 30 PEOPLE HERE TO LOOK AFTER TWO, WHICH FEELS REALLY ODD.

THE THING IS I CAN'T QUITE FIGURE OUT IS IT WEIRD BECAUSE THERE ARE ONLY TWO OF US -- WE DON'T NEED 30 TO LOOK AFTER US, SURELY?

OR IS IT WEIRD BECAUSE ACTUALLY WE DO NEED 30 TO LOOK AFTER US AND THAT SAYS SOMETHING ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT WE'RE IN.

EITHER WAY, IT'S PRETTY PECULIAR, ESPECIALLY SINCE WE'RE REALLY JUST HERE TO FILM SOME DUCKS.

THE OVERNIGHT IS A SUCCESS, ALTHOUGH THE MORNING IS MORE OF A SMASH-AND-GRAB RAID THAN A CONVENTIONAL WILDLIFE SHOOT.

GUARDS AND GUNS RATHER COMPROMISE OUR ABILITY TO BLEND IN.

THE LIGHT IS NOTHING TO GET EXCITED ABOUT EITHER, BUT WE DO GET A GLIMPSE OF AN IRAQ BABBLER.

ITS RATHER BLAND LOOKS DISGUISE ITS SIGNIFICANCE.

THIS SPECIES CAN ONLY BE FOUND HERE, OVER THE BORDER IN IRAN, AND UPSTREAM ALONG THE EUPHRATES.

SEEING THE BABBLER IS DEFINITELY A GOOD SIGN, BUT WE ARE HOPING TO SEE SOME OF THE MARSH'S MORE EXOTIC INHABITANTS.

MUDHAFAR TAKES US OUT TO THE SOUTHERN EDGE OF THE MARSHES.

BUT INITIALLY WE SEE LITTLE EXCEPT SLENDER-BILLED GULLS.

THEN, AFTER A BIT OF WADING TO GET RIGHT OUT TO THE EDGE OF THE MARSH, WE'RE REWARDED WITH A SIGHT OF MY FAVORITE BIRD -- A FLOCK OF GREATER FLAMINGO.

THESE BIRDS PROBABLY BREED IN NORTHERN IRAN, BUT, ATTRACTED BY THE WARMER TEMPERATURES, THEY'LL SPEND SEVERAL MONTHS HERE, MOVING FROM ONE BRACKISH SPOT TO ANOTHER.

[ MUDHAFAR SPEAKING ARABIC ] Johnson: THE JOB OF CONSERVING THE WILDLIFE HERE IS GETTING HARDER.

IN FACT, THE WHOLE MARSH RESTORATION PROJECT IS AT RISK.

AND LOOKING AT THE EUPHRATES RIVER, IT'S IMMEDIATELY APPARENT WHY.

BY NOW THE RIVER SHOULD BE STARTING TO FLOOD, SWOLLEN WITH SNOWMELT FROM ITS HEADWATERS IN TURKEY.

IN FACT IT LOOKS LOWER NOW THAN IT DID IN JANUARY.

IT'S THE CONTINUATION OF A DROUGHT THAT'S BEEN GOING ON FOR NEARLY THREE YEARS, AND FROM A PEAK OF OVER 50%, THE PROPORTION OF MARSHLAND THAT'S BEEN RESTORED HAS SLUMPED TO AROUND 30%. THE DROUGHT IS NOT THE SOLE CAUSE OF THE PROBLEMS.

THE TIGRIS AND EUPHRATES RIVERS HAVE BEEN DAMMED SINCE THE TIME OF THE BABYLONIANS, 4,000 YEARS AGO.

BUT RECENTLY THE RATE OF UPSTREAM DAM CONSTRUCTION HAS INCREASED DRAMATICALLY, AND THE MARSHES NOW RECEIVE LESS THAN A FIFTH OF THE WATER THEY DID 30 YEARS AGO.

Azzam: THE LACK OF WATER IS THE RESULT OF DAMS UPSTREAM, IN IRAQ, BUT MOSTLY IN TURKEY AND SYRIA.

IF THERE'S ENOUGH WATER, WE CAN RESTORE 100% OF THE MARSHES.

THE HINDERING BLOCK IS, IN FACT, THERE IS LACK OF WATER.

Johnson: THE DAMS ARE CREATING AN ADDITIONAL PROBLEM.

THE LONGSTANDING CYCLE OF SPRING FLOODS FLUSHING OUT ACCUMULATED SALT DEPOSITS NO LONGER OCCURS, AND THE MARSHES ARE BECOMING STEADILY MORE SALINE.

THE WATER QUALITY CHANGES AREN'T JUST AFFECTING THE PLANTS.

TRADITIONAL FRESHWATER FISH ARE BEING REPLACED BY SPECIES THAT ARE SALTWATER-TOLERANT.

ELSEWHERE, AREAS HAVE DRIED COMPLETELY.

THE FEW POOLS OF WATER LEFT, LIKE THOSE CLOSE TO FADHILA JABBAH'S HOUSE, ARE OFTEN STAGNANT AND POLLUTED.

[ JABBAH SPEAKING ARABIC ] Johnson: IT'S LATE MAY, THE BEGINNING OF SUMMER IN THE MARSHES.

WE'VE RETURNED TO IRAQ FOR ONE FINAL TRIP.

OUR MAIN OBJECTIVE IS TO FILM THE RARE BASRA REED WARBLER.

LIKE THESE SQUACCO HERONS, OR THESE RED-CRESTED POCHARD, THE REED WARBLERS SHOULD BE NESTING NOW, AND OUR BEST CHANCE OF SEEING ONE LIES IN FINDING AN OCCUPIED NEST SOMEWHERE OUT HERE IN THE MARSHES.

WE ALSO WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT STEPS, IF ANY, ARE BEING TAKEN TO TACKLE THE DREADFUL LACK OF WATER.

IF THE PROBLEM IS NOT ADDRESSED, THEN MUCH OF THE WORK CARRIED OUT TO DATE WILL BE FOR NOTHING.

HOWEVER, RETURNING TO THE RIVER, IT'S OBVIOUS THAT IN OUR ABSENCE, AZZAM AND HIS TEAM HAVE BEEN BUSY.

Azzam: EARLY LAST YEAR WE DID NOTICE THAT THE EUPHRATES LEVEL WAS DROPPING, WHICH WAS, AS A RESULT, THE CENTRAL MARSHES WERE BEGINNING TO RE-DRY.

IN ORDER TO PREVENT THAT FROM HAPPENING, ONE OF MY ENGINEERS THOUGHT OF THE IDEA OF BUILDING AN EMBANKMENT ACROSS THE EUPHRATES, RAISING THE LEVEL OF THE EUPHRATES UPSTREAM.

AND THE EMBANKMENT IS NOW BEING BUILT BY THE MINISTRY OF WATER RESOURCES TO ACTUALLY REHYDRATE THE CENTRAL MARSHES, AND THE CENTRAL MARSHES ARE REHYDRATING AS WE SPEAK.

Johnson: PUTTING YET ANOTHER DAM IN THE EUPHRATES CAN ONLY BE A STOP-GAP MEASURE.

IT'S JUST INTENDED TO BUY TIME WHILE AZZAM MUSTERS THE RESOURCES TO IMPLEMENT HIS GRAND PLAN TO SECURE THE LONG-TERM FUTURE FOR THIS AREA.

TO ACHIEVE IT, HE'S TAKING ON ONE OF THE MOST ENDURING LEGACIES OF SADDAM'S REIGN.

THIS IS THE GLORY RIVER, THE LARGEST OF SADDAM'S DRAINAGE CANALS.

UNTIL NOW IT'S BEEN LEFT LARGELY INTACT.

THAT'S ABOUT TO CHANGE.

Azzam: AT THIS POINT IN TIME, WE'RE BUILDING A REGULATOR AT THE BEGINNING OF THE GLORY RIVER.

I HOPE YOU WILL SEE THAT THERE'S NOT GOING TO BE ANY WATER FLOWING HERE.

ALL THE WATER THAT'S FLOWING INTO THE GLORY RIVER SHOULD BE FLOWING INTO THE CENTRAL MARSHES, WHERE IT WILL GO TO THE NATIONAL PARK.

WITH THIS WATER, WE CAN RESTORE THE MAJORITY OF THE CENTRAL MARSHES.

Johnson: THAT'S JUST PART OF THE VISION.

DIVERTING WATER FROM THE GLORY RIVER IS LIKE TURNING ON A BATH TAP, BUT AZZAM IS ALSO PLAYING WITH THE PLUG IN ORDER TO RE-CREATE THE NATURAL WATER CYCLE.

Azzam: WHAT WE'RE TRYING TO DO HERE IS TO CREATE A MECHANICAL FLOOD, AS IT WERE.

WE HAVE A SERIES OF ABOUT NINE REGULATORS, JUST ABOUT THE SAME SIZE AS THIS ONE.

WE'RE GOING TO USE THESE REGULATORS TO KIND OF HOLD WATER IN THE WINTER AND MAKE THE WATER GO UP, AND BASICALLY WET THE DRY AREA, OR THE HIGH AREAS, AND THEN LET THE WATER GO OUT IN THE SPRING, CREATING A SMALL FLOOD CYCLE FOR THE CENTRAL MARSH.

YOU KNOW IT'S A COMPROMISE ESSENTIALLY.

IT'S BASICALLY CREATING A SMALL FLOOD PULSE, AS OPPOSED TO THE LARGE PULSES THAT USED TO HAPPEN BY NATURE.

MOREOVER, THE WATER THAT COMES INTO THE MARSHES THESE DAYS DOES NOT HAVE THE TURBIDITY, DOES NOT HAVE THE SILT AND CLAY THAT IT USED TO HAVE WITH THE NATURAL FLOODS.

SO IT IS A HALF SOLUTION, BUT IT'S BETTER THAN NOTHING.

Johnson: THE PROJECT'S BEING FUNDED BY THE IRAQI GOVERNMENT, BUT WAS DEVELOPED USING MONEY FROM ITALY.

Woman: WE HAVE A SMALL GENERATOR FOR THEM.

[ MAN INTERPRETING IN ARABIC ] THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Johnson: SEVERAL WESTERN GOVERNMENTS PROVIDE AID TO HELP IN THE REBUILDING OF IRAQ, CHANNELING FUNDS THROUGH SPECIALLY SET UP PROVINCIAL RECONSTRUCTION TEAMS, OR PRTs.

HERE IN DHI QAR PROVINCE, THE PRT IS RUN BY THE ITALIANS, AND ITS HEAD, ANNA PROUSE, IS A COMMITTED SUPPORTER OF THE EFFORTS TO MAINTAIN AND EXTEND THE MARSHES.

Prouse: I HAVEN'T BEEN OUT HERE NOW IN A FEW MONTHS AND I WAS SMILING, I SAID, 'I AM SO GLAD I CAME OUT HERE,' BECAUSE AT THE BEGINNING IT WAS, IT WAS NOT MUCH TO SEE OUT HERE.

MY HEART WOULD CRY WHEN YOU SAW IT.

NOW YOU START SEEING WATER, AND THERE'S FISH AGAIN, AND THE BIRDS FLYING IN THE EVENING WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN.

IT IS, YOU KNOW, IT'S GOOD FOR THE SOUL.

HERE YOU JUST BREATHE THE FUTURE, YOU JUST BREATHE THAT THERE IS A POSSIBILITY -- AND THIS IS THANKS TO THE WILDLIFE.

Johnson: THAT SENSE OF HOPE IS A VALUABLE COMMODITY IN IRAQ, BECAUSE THE DETERIORATING SECURITY SITUATION COULD PLUNGE THE COUNTRY BACK INTO CHAOS.

THE UPSURGE IN VIOLENCE IS PARTLY DUE TO THE INCONCLUSIVE RESULTS OF THE NATIONAL ELECTIONS IN MARCH 2010.

WITH NO CLEAR WINNER, THE COMPETING GROUPS HAVE SO FAR FAILED TO FORM A COALITION GOVERNMENT.

IN EFFECT, NO ONE IS IN CHARGE.

NO, UH, ON THE CAUSEWAY.

YES.

OKAY, SEE YOU THEN.

WE THANKFULLY HAVEN'T HAD TO DEAL WITH ANY SERIOUS SECURITY INCIDENTS.

BUT WE STILL WANT TO FILM THE ELUSIVE BASRA REED WARBLER, AND TODAY'S EARLY START LOOKS TO HAVE BEEN A WASTED EFFORT.

[ MEN SPEAKING ARABIC ] WE'VE JUST HAD A BIT OF A DELAY THIS MORNING, AN ARGUMENT OVER BOATS.

WE'VE GOT BOATS ORGANIZED TO TAKE US OUT INTO THE MARSH, BUT ONE OF THE LOCALS WAS ARGUING BECAUSE WE WEREN'T USING HIS BOAT, AND THE ONLY WAY IT WAS GOING TO GET RESOLVED WAS BY CALLING UP THE LOCAL SHEIKH AND THE LOCAL HEAD OF POLICE TO TRY AND RESOLVE IT.

THE BOATS THAT HAVE COME TO PICK US UP BELONG TO ONE TRIBE, BUT TO REACH US THEY'VE HAD TO TRAVEL INTO ANOTHER TRIBE'S AREA, WHICH IS THE SOURCE OF THE DISPUTE.

AS THE ARGUMENT INTENSIFIES, IT FEELS LIKE I'M WATCHING A MICROCOSM OF THE PARLIAMENTARY NEGOTIATIONS -- AND THEY'VE BEEN GOING ON FOR MONTHS.

BEING HELD LIKE THIS IN ONE PLACE IS NEVER GOOD FROM A SAFETY POINT OF VIEW, AND AFTER AN HOUR'S DELAY, THE SECURITY TEAM LEADER DECIDES TO ABANDON FILMING.

VISIBLE FOR MILES AROUND ATOP AN EMBANKMENT, WE ARE EXTREMELY VULNERABLE.

BUT WE CAN'T JUST HEAD OFF.

OUR POLICE ESCORT HAS CALLED UP A LOCAL DETACHMENT TO GUIDE US THROUGH THE NEARBY TOWN, SO WE MUST MOVE THE VEHICLES OFF THE SKYLINE WHILE WE WAIT FOR THEM TO APPEAR.

EVERY NEW ARRIVAL IS NOW VIEWED AS A POTENTIAL THREAT.

[ MAN SPEAKING ACCENTED ENGLISH ] [ ARMS WEAPON ] Johnson: EVEN THE CONFIRMATION OF THEIR IDENTITY AS THE DETACHMENT WE'VE BEEN WAITING FOR DOES LITTLE TO REDUCE THE TENSION.

Man: I'VE JUST BEEN INFORMED BY THE TL THAT WE'RE MOVING OUT NOW IN APPROXIMATELY TWO MINUTES.

BRAVO, ROGER.

Johnson: ARE WE GOING BACK THROUGH SUK-ANQ-SUKH -- NO, WE'RE GOING TO GO A DIFFERENT ROUTE.

JUST SHOWS HOW A SITUATION CAN GET OUT OF CONTROL OVER SOMETHING AS SIMPLE AS USING THE WRONG BOAT, CAN EASILY FLARE UP INTO A FULL-ON 'BUN-FIGHT,' AS THEY SAY.

Johnson: BUT IF WE THOUGHT OUR NEXT STOP WOULD BE THE SANCTUARY OF OUR BASE, WE WERE SADLY MISTAKEN.

WELL, AS YOU CAN SEE, THINGS HAVE ESCALATED A LITTLE BIT FURTHER.

DIDN'T QUITE EXPECT TO BE IN THE INSIDE OF AN IRAQI POLICE STATION.

THE GUY WHO WAS COMPLAINING WOULDN'T TAKE MONEY.

WE CAME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT, POTENTIALLY, THERE'S ANOTHER AGENDA GOING ON.

THIS WHOLE AREA IS NOW DEEMED POTENTIALLY HOSTILE, AND WE ARE NOW WAITING FOR REINFORCEMENTS TO JOIN US.

THE ONLY THING THAT WE CAN REALLY DO IS RETURN TO BASE, REGROUP AND COME UP WITH A PLAN FOR TOMORROW.

AFTER 45 MINUTES, MORE HEAVILY ARMED TSU SQUADS ARRIVE AND WE CAN FINALLY START THE LONG JOURNEY HOME.

THE GUY WHO'D BEEN KICKING UP A FUSS OVER THE BOATS AND WAS SUBSEQUENTLY ARRESTED HAS ACTUALLY TURNED OUT TO BE A MEMBER OF THE MAHDI ARMY, WHICH IS A MILITIA GROUP, AND THAT'S JUST CHANGED THE WHOLE PERSPECTIVE ON THAT SITUATION.

THE IRAQI POLICE UNIT THAT WAS ESCORTING US IS TAKING IT SO SERIOUSLY THAT WE ACTUALLY HAVE SIX TSU VEHICLES WITH US NOW, SO WE ARE NOW A MILITARY CONVOY OF 10 VEHICLES IN TOTAL, WHICH IS A MEASURE OF HOW SERIOUSLY THE LOCAL POLICE ARE TAKING THE SITUATION.

AFTER ALL THE EFFORT TO GET US OUT TO IRAQ AND INTO THE MARSHES, THE LOSS OF A WHOLE DAY'S FILMING IS DIFFICULT TO STOMACH.

BUT AS THEY SAY OUT HERE, IT'S GOD'S WILL.

WE CAN ONLY HOPE HE SMILES ON US TOMORROW.

WE'RE GOING UP THIS LITTLE CHANNEL, AWAY FROM ALL THE OTHER BOATS TO TRY AND FIND A BASRA REED WARBLER NEST.

IT'S ONE OF THE INDIGENOUS SPECIES TO THE MARSHES, AND AS ITS NAME SUGGESTS THIS IS REALLY ONE OF THE ONLY PARTS OF THE WORLD THAT IT'S FOUND.

ACCORDING TO AZZAM'S SURVEY TEAMS, BASRA REED WARBLERS WERE NESTING HERE LAST YEAR.

WE'RE HOPING THAT THE DRYING OF THE MARSHES HASN'T PREVENTED THEIR RETURN.

THERE YOU ARE. CAN YOU SEE IT, DAVID?

STEVE SPOTS A NEST... Foote: IF NECESSARY, I'LL STAND IN THE WATER AND DO IT.

Johnson: BUT IS IT STILL IN USE?

WE'RE IN LUCK, AND WE GET OUR FIRST VIEW OF ONE OF THE WORLD'S RARE BIRDS, A BASRA REED WARBLER.

ITS UNSPECTACULAR APPEARANCE BELIES THE MAGNITUDE OF THE MOMENT.

THIS BIRD, WHICH BREEDS HERE AND VIRTUALLY NOWHERE ELSE, EMBODIES THE SPIRIT OF THE MESOPOTAMIAN MARSHES.

IF IT CAN RECOVER, THEN IT SPEAKS VOLUMES FOR THE WHOLE REHABILITATION PROJECT.

[ WARBLER CHIRPING ] [ CHICKS PEEPING ] AND DESPITE THE DROUGHT, SURVEYS SHOW ITS BREEDING RANGE IS GREATER NOW THAN AT ANY TIME SINCE 2003.

Azzam: THIS IS WHAT I LOVE ABOUT MY JOB.

THIS IS WHAT MAKES YOU WORK HARDER TO MAKE OTHER PLACES COME BACK.

YEAH, THIS IS THE BEST PART OF MY JOB, YEAH.

Johnson: SUCCESSES LIKE THIS ARE PART OF WHAT KEEPS AZZAM AND HIS COLLEAGUES GOING.

AND IF THE CHALLENGES AHEAD OVER WATER SUPPLY OR ANY OTHER THREAT SEEM DAUNTING, IT'S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER THE PROGRESS THAT'S BEEN MADE AFTER THE VIRTUAL DESTRUCTION OF THIS UNIQUE ENVIRONMENT.

Azzam: WHENEVER I'M INSIDE THE MARSHES, I FEEL AT PEACE, LISTENING TO SOUND OF THE WIND GOING THROUGH THE RUSHES, THE SOUNDS OF BIRDS CALLING IN THE DISTANCE, IT'S WONDERFUL TO HAVE THAT FEELING BACK AGAIN, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU CONTRAST IT TO 2003, WHEN THERE WAS NOTHING BUT DESERT AND SAND IN YOUR EARS AND NOSE.

IN MANY WAYS, THE RESTORATION OF THE MARSHES MIRRORS THE RESTORATION OF IRAQ -- THERE'S TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK; TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK -- BUT YOU KNOW WHAT?

DIRECTIONALLY, WE'RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK!

THE FUTURE IS GOOD.

ALL YOU NEED IS TO HAVE THE WILL, AND PERSIST, AND IF WE CAN RESTORE THIS, IRAQ CAN BE RESTORED, TOO.