Destructive fires in Iraq and Syria

Regardless of who is behind the blazes, the fires threaten the livelihood of farming communities and hit at the region’s food security.
Saturday 06/07/2019
An Iraqi farmer inspects wheat crops at his field, which were burned by fire in Alam area, east of Tikrit, Iraq, May 30. (Reuters)
An Iraqi farmer inspects wheat crops at his field, which were burned by fire in Alam area, east of Tikrit, Iraq, May 30. (Reuters)

A new factor is weighing on the precarious economic situation facing many parts of the region: Fires. Crops are going up in smoke in Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries.

Regardless of who is behind the blazes, some of which appear to have been deliberately set but others caused by weather conditions and negligence, the fires threaten the livelihood of farming communities and hit at the region’s food security.

Syria and Iraq have been the worst hit by the fires.

At least 12 provinces in Iraq were affected: Nineveh, Anbar, Saladin, Kirkuk, Diyala, Baghdad, Babil, Maysan, Wasit, Qadisiyyah, Muthanna and Najaf.

Nearly 330 separate incidents of fire destroyed more than 17,000 hectares of farmland from May 8-June 29, figures released by the Directorate of Civil Defence in Iraq stated.

The damage to wheat and barley fields was devastating, as the fires coincided with harvest seasons. It not only affected the general food supply in Iraq but it also hit hard farmers who have no other source of income.

Human rights campaigners called on the Iraqi government to compensate people whose livelihoods have been affected.

Investigators said the fires were arson after they found tools to start the blaze in the fields. Suspicion is focused on Islamic State (ISIS) sleeper cells, especially because the fires swept across areas where the terrorist group once held sway.

ISIS claimed responsibility for blazes in Kirkuk, Diyala, Saladin and Nineveh. ISIS also claimed responsibility for fires in Hasakah province in Syria.

Writing in its online propaganda arm al-Naba, ISIS exhorted its followers to continue the mayhem: “We tell the soldiers of the caliphate, you have before you millions of acres of land planted with wheat and barley, belonging to apostates.”

For many experts, this fits the pattern of ISIS’s designs. Peter Schwartzstein, a fellow at the Centre for Climate and Security, said the criminal fires are “means of keeping the countryside unstable and ripe for it to operate. “The rationale is: If we can’t have this land, neither can anyone else.”

There is speculation that ISIS is not the only party involved. In the fractured and feuding social and ethnic landscape and political factions of Syria and Iraq, there are historical land disputes, such as the Arab-Kurdish ones, in the background that do not require much fuel to turn old grudges into a fire.

Without terrorists and arsonists stoking the fires, climate change would have sparked enough reasons for concern by itself. It could be a hot summer for more than one reason.

The causes of blazes may vary but the result is just more unneeded misery for people in the region.

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