Bahr Al Milh is a very large, deep and brackish lake in a closed, sand/silt basin 95 km south-west of Baghdad, surrounded by desert and with a low cliff shore in many places. It was created in the late 1970s as a second storage reservoir (below Haur Al Habbaniya, site 016) to control floods on the River Euphrates. The salinity of the lake has been increasing since its creation and now stands at about 2.0-2.2%. There are many islands and peninsulas. Lake Usathe (also called Shithathah lake, 32°37'N 43°55'E, c.100 ha) lies a few kilometres from the south-east corner of Bahr Al Milh. It is a small, shallow, freshwater lake with some emergent vegetation. The surrounding area has some sandy cliffs and is sparsely vegetated.
Razzaza Lake is connected to Habbaniya Lake by a narrow canal running through semi-desert, called Sin-Al-Thibban Canal. Razzaza used to be a large, deep lake,but it is now characterized by very high salinity levels, which have increased during the past ten years due to the shortage in water it receives and increased evaporation during Iraq’s very dry, hot summers. Locals report that water levels have declined and the lake is likely now to be only 5–10 m deep. The extensive shrinkage of the lakeduring the 2000sis graphically seen in a series of satellite images taken in summer. These are not seasonal changes but are based on management issues that need to be resolved regarding water allocation to Razazza via the Sin-Al-Thibban Canal from Habbaniya Lake.
The geology of the area is marls, siltstones, gypsum/anhydrite, and limestone bands, mainly silts and the main habitats beside the lake are beds of Phragmites australis, Juncus acutus, Aeluropus lagapoides, Salicornia herbacea, and Schoenoplectuslittoralisand desert shrublands such asTamarix aucherana, T. macrocarpa, Prosopis farcta, Zygophyllum fabago, Nitraria retusa, and Haloxylon salicornicum.
See box for key species (some counts from the Karbala area are included). The lake is important for breeding Marmaronetta angustirostris, and holds huge numbers of wintering waterfowl. In January 1979 107,000 waterfowl were counted on Bahr Al Milh, even though only two points in the vast wetland area were surveyed, including very large concentrations of Podiceps cristatus, P. nigricollis, Phalacrocorax carbo, Pelecanus onocrotalus, Mergellus albellus and Fulica atra, while Lake Usathe held 30,500 waterfowl including good numbers of Phoenicopterus ruber, dabbling ducks and Recurvirostra avosetta. Pelecanus crispus was recorded at both lakes. Bahr Al Milh was listed as a wetland of international importance by Carp (1980).
Non-bird biodiversity: No information available to BirdLife International.
Razzaza Lake harbors considerable numbers of waterfowl (particularly the globally threatened Marmaronetta angustirostris) and its mudflats attract large number of waders and shorebirds during their passage. It also has a considerable number of inaccessible marshlands that are important for breeding birds, in addition to the islands that are perfect for breeding gull and tern species in quite good numbers
Additional Important Bird Observations: During the surveys, 42 bird species were observed. Razaza Lake provides vast areas of mudflats that are suitable habitat for large numbers of migrant and wintering waterfowl and waders. There is a resident population of Greater FlamingoPhoenicopterusroseusthat might use this wetland for breeding.
Important Other Fauna: The valleys and dense plant cover (including orchards) on the western side of the lake and the flat arid/semi-desert areas on the eastern and southern parts of the lake might harbor considerable wildlife diversity; however, these areas were not surveyed during the KBA surveys. According to local reports, mammals include:Rüppell's FoxVulpesrueppellii, Golden Jackal Canisaureus, Indian Grey Mongoose Herpestesedwardsii, Jungle Cat Felischaus, Wild Cat Felissilvestrisand other common species.
At this time only one old fisherman could be found who reported that only one fish species is found in the lake, called locally Shanak, (Acanthopagrus cf. arabicus), which is a marine fish in origin and is stocked at the site by the government to support fishing in the lake
Habitat and land use
The lake still seriously lacks water and most of the birds were found concentrated at the basin of the sole source of water that brings sewage from Karbala. The Sin-Al-Thibban Canal (that brings water from Habbaniya) was still closed by the Anbar government for unknown reasons. Two main towns lie close to the lake: Ain-Al-Tamr (to the southwest) and Al-Rahaliya (west). The area west of the town of Ain Al-Tamr was part of the survey area. There are a lot of date farms within the west edge of the site. The area to the south and east is shrublands. A paved road passes through the site. All the date farms depend on well water and rain as there is no river or canal in the area.Al-Rahaliya is situated near the upper portion of the lake to the southeast of Ramadi and Falluja and to the south of Habbaniya Lake (AN1). It is a small town on the western bank of Razzaza Lake, which includes a saline shallow-water area. The semi-desert areas around here feature xerophytes and halophytesbut also contains recently planted date palm trees and orchards near Al-Rahaliya town. Al-Taar area is a depression in the desert to the west of Karbala and south of the lake that collects rainwater from the relatively higher lands to the south and west. There are a lot of trucks moving around and causing extensive disturbance and dust. There is gravel mining located near this area.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
No conservation measures are known to have been taken. In the winter of 1991-1992, over 40,000 ducks and over 40,000 Fulica atra were estimated to have been sold in the markets of Karbala and Najaf, most of these probably having come from Bahr Al Milh and Haur Al Hammar (K. Y. Al-Dabbagh in litt.). In the 1970s it appeared that military activities and the use of the area for recreation might pose threats. Shrimp farming and the introduction of tilapia fish have both been proposed for Bahr Al Milh. No conservation measures are known to have been proposed.
The main threat to Razzaza is the lack of water (rated ‘Very High’ during the survey periods), since the main water source (from Habbaniya Lake via the Sin-Al-Thibban Canal)is completely blocked. This affects the quantity and quality of water and without this input Razzaza becomes increasingly saline. The second threat, also rated very high, is pollution from a drainage canal that collects sewage and agricultural waste water from the adjacent areas and is currently one of the only water input sources for Razzaza. Two threats are rated ‘High’: human intrusion and disturbance (especially during the bird breeding season), and over-exploitation and persecution. The latter threat is represented by hunting of birds (particularlywaterfowl) and fishing. Fishing is considered a serious threat due to the limited fish resource in the lake caused by lack of water and its saline condition. Other threats (rated ‘Medium’) were observed in the lake and surrounding areas.
Data-sheet compiled by Pavel Ctyroky, reviewed by Dr Khalid Y. Al-Dabbagh and Dr Hanna Y. Siman.