When Hussein rose to power, Alwash moved to the United States to escape persecution. He went on to earn advanced degrees at prestigious schools, established a successful career as a civil engineer and married an American woman, raising two daughters in an affluent Los Angeles suburb. From afar, he read with horror and disbelief news reports that trickled in about the marshes’ destruction.
When the Hussein regime fell, Alwash knew the time had come for him to go back to restore the beloved marshes of his childhood. In 2003, he made the difficult choice of giving up a comfortable life in California and moved back to war-torn Iraq, with the hopes that one day his own daughters might be able to see the place he had loved as a child.
Once he got past the initial shock of seeing the drained marshes for the first time, Alwash took on the seemingly impossible challenge of bringing environmental protection to the forefront of a nation focused on restoring peace and rebuilding infrastructure.
In 2004, Alwash founded the nonprofit Nature Iraq and put his experience in hydraulic engineering to use, surveying the region and developing a master plan to restore the marshes. He reached out to the environment and water resource ministries to educate government officials about the environmental, social and economic benefits of restoring the marshes.