Sitting in his reed meeting house in what was once Iraq's marshes, Shaikh Rashash Al Imara warns of potential trouble if his poor tribesmen are driven off their land by foreign companies digging for oil. "If I'm someone who is starving and an oil well has been drilled next to me, do you think I will remain quiet?" said Shaikh Rashash, a former Iraqi army general, who is now a leading figure in the Al Imara tribe in southern Iraq. "I swear by God I will take it to pieces. We have told them anything can happen, these are the marshes." Thought to be the site of the biblical Garden of Eden, Iraq's ancient marshes have for years been known locally as a dangerous haven for smugglers, bandits and kidnappers. Tribes here also live above some of the richest oil reserves in Iraq, and negotiating with them is the latest challenge for international companies working the country's petroleum fields in some of the largest deals the industry has seen. Saddam Hussain, ousted by a 2003 US-led invasion and subsequently executed, had accused the Marsh Arabs of treason during his 1980-88 war with Iran. He had dammed and drained the marshes to flush out rebels hiding among the reed stalks. The Imara tribe dwells in what is now the outskirts of the marshes. Miles of wasteland scattered with palm trees, baked mud huts, stagnant water canals and rusty pipelines are all that remain of the ancient wetlands. "The area here is backward, it needs schools, hospitals, roads, water and electricity," said Shaikh Rashash, waving a palm leaf hand fan to cool off the sweltering summer heat. Oil is the backbone of Iraq's economy, which was left in tatters after years of war and economic sanctions. Baghdad signed a series of deals with oil companies to develop its vast oil reserves that could boost its output potential to Saudi Arabian levels and generate billions of cash needed to rebuild. International oil companies working in Iraq already grapple with many challenges, from security to crumbling infrastructure, logistical bottlenecks and bureaucracy.