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Al-Chibayish, Iraq

Mudhif Houses

Giant reed houses made in the marshes of Southern Iraq 

Pictures of Iraq in the news usually show a vast desert, hellish temperatures and images of warfare. The remainder of the country is often lost in the scramble and written off, which keeps the rest of the world from a 5,000-year-old culture that includes the majestic Mudhif houses of the Marsh Arabs of Southern Iraq.

With a population just under 500,000, it is understandable that the Madan people, also called Marsh Arabs, often get lost in the fracas. However, a glance into their world reveals a type of architecture that is both bizarre and wondrous. Constructed out of reeds and adobe, Mudhif houses are slightly curved communal spaces maintained by the village sheikh through a taxation system.

Mudhif houses act as the main center of society for the Madan. Visitors are hosted in the house, and religious and cultural life are also centered there. Today, a rebirth of the ancient Mudhif style has been spurred by the United States Army, who have worked with local populations to rebuild modern houses with a Madan twist. In an effort to aid refugees, many of these marsh homes have been constructed as housing projects to accomodate the deluge of people returning to Southern Iraq after being displaced by the war.

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