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Fishermen support families with small catch from Baghdad's Tigris

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Abed al Redahs Shukur, 52, and his cousin Tarik Kamel Jabar, 29, have been fishing the Tigris River together as long as they can remember.

"When I was born, I was with him," Jabar said.

They've fished through war and dictatorship, through considerable pollution and the occasional body part. On a good day, they'll split the equivalent of $10.

Shukur and Jabar are out by 6 a.m., pushed upriver by a little 12-horsepower Johnson outboard. It's pretty on the flat, slow-moving Tigris, at least for an urban river. The shoreline is reedy in places as it winds through Baghdad, though much of it is flood-controlled by sloping rock and cement embankments.

Shukur and Jabar use drift nets to catch several varieties of shadlike freshwater fish that they call semti, nebash and chaboot.

The catch, they complained, isn't what it was. Shukur blamed dropping water levels, increasing pollution and fishermen who use car batteries to shock the fish to the surface, then take all the big ones.

A few miles north of their southern Baghdad homes, the cousins cut their motor and drifted downriver, Jabar navigating with large oars. Huge riverside palaces glided by, gifts from Saddam Hussein to his family and favored generals and henchmen. Shukur and Jabar, sharing a cigarette, named the former owners and recited rumors of how they were killed or dealt with by vengeful Iraqis or U.S. forces.

As the boat moved lazily, Shukur dropped a new 100-foot by 6-foot nylon drift net out into the water, its top buoyed with Styrofoam blocks. After about 10 minutes, he began to pull in the net a handful at a time, hoping to feel the fight of a fish.

They average maybe four fish a day, the cousins said. Once ashore, they clean them and smoke them on stakes beside a green wood fire. They're well-known by their customers, just as Shukur's fisherman father was.

Shukur supports a family of seven on the catch; Jabar a family of five.

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(Somodevilla is a Knight Ridder Newspapers photographer on assignment in Baghdad.)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ+FISHING

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