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June 22, 2010

ODU Signs Memorandum of Understanding with Iraqi University

Old Dominion University

Musselman (left) with Alwash

Old Dominion University and American University, Sulaimaniya, a new institution in Iraq, have agreed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that is expected to lead to educational and research collaborations between the two institutions.

The MOU, which was executed earlier this month, sprang from a visit to ODU in February by Azzam Alwash, an official of the Iraqi university and an expert on the renewal of the Mesopotamian marshes in southern Iraq.

At ODU, Alwash presented a seminar, sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences, titled "The Marshes of Mesopotamia: Past, Present and Future." He is executive secretary of the board of trustees of the American University, Sulaimaniya, and the founder of the Twin Rivers Institute of Research and the Nature-Iraq environmental research organization.

Mesopotamian marshes where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers meet in southern Iraq have promoted global biodiversity through the millennia. Up until four decades ago, the nearly 20,000 square kilometers of nurturing grounds for plants and animals composed the largest wetlands tract in the Middle East. But between 1970 and 2000, dam projects and the purposeful draining of marshes reduced the marshlands by about 90 percent.

This loss of wetlands has adversely affected biodiversity from Siberia to southern Africa.

Alwash is among the scientists and engineers who over the past 10 years have worked with some success to renew the marshlands. He served as senior project adviser for the Eden Again Project of the Iraq Foundation, which developed an action plan for restoration of the Mesopotamian marshes. He and his work were featured in a news segment of CBS's "60 Minutes" last year.

A civil engineer by training - he has a doctorate in the field from the University of Southern California - Alwash also has developed specialties in ecological services and inter-governmental and inter-institutional relationships.

Lytton John Musselman, ODU's Mary Payne Hogan Professor of Biology, met Alwash when they participated in a Middle East biodiversity symposium in Jordan in 2008. That meeting led in 2009 to Musselman's invitation to a project involving the plants of Iraq, and to Musselman presenting plant identification workshops in organizations founded by Alwash. "I am most impressed with his commitment to get young Iraqis involved in conservation," Musselman said.

Musselman said he expects collaborations under the MOU to be broad ranging and to include projects involving Alwash and others in Iraq to restore the marshes and promote biodiversity found there. The ODU professor is in Iraq this month lecturing at American University, Sulaimaniya.

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