ISIS resumes scorched earth tactics against Iraqi farmers

Acres of farmland recently torched in Makhmour district.
Wednesday 13/05/2020
A file picture shows Iraqi farmers and other residents attempting to put out a fire that engulfed a wheat field in the northern town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul, last June. (Reuters)
A file picture shows Iraqi farmers and other residents attempting to put out a fire that engulfed a wheat field in the northern town of Bashiqa, east of Mosul, last June. (Reuters)

The Islamic State (ISIS) is once again setting agricultural fields ablaze in north-eastern Iraq as the harvest season begins, devastating the livelihood of local farmers as it reminds Iraqis of the terror group’s lingering threat.

ISIS has long used the threat of crop burnings to extort locals into paying taxes. Last year, tens of thousands of acres of wheat and barley fields were scorched in northern Iraq, resulting in an estimated millions of dollars in losses for already struggling communities.

Most recently, ISIS terrorists were suspected of targeting wheat fields in Iraq’s disputed Makhmour district, torching acres of farmland in the middle of the fasting month of Ramadan.

A senior Peshmerga commander posted video footage of the wreckage on Twitter, accusing ISIS of “burning wheat fields of innocent farmers.”

“Currently, in the Qeraj area, near the Qarechukh mountain, the fields of citizens are on fire,” wrote Peshmerga commander Sirwan Barzani. “This is an example of their barbarity & how they are against all that is good in favour of humanity.”

ISIS also claimed credit for burning fields in the al-Athim area of Diyala province, while other crop burnings were reported in Najaf province, though state media said the latter was due to an “electrical fault.”

The attacks are crushing news for farmers who were hoping for a peaceful harvest season that would finally bring them a return on their investment.

“The people of Makhmour haven't seen peace for most periods of the past 60 years," Kamaran M. Palani, a lecturer at Salahaddin University-Erbil, told Kurdistan 24.

"My brother is very worried. He has a land not very far from this area and has invested a lot this year. He was so happy until this happened yesterday," added Palani.

“This is something that happens every year during summer,” Muhammed Amin Faris, a member of parliament's agricultural and water resources committee told Rudaw on Tuesday.

“The agricultural and water resources committee in Iraqi parliament has already sent a letter to the ministries of interior and defense, as well as to the provinces, urging them to protect the agricultural fields and crops from burning.”

A map identifying Iraqi provinces. (AFP)
A map identifying Iraqi provinces. (AFP)

ISIS’s recent arson campaign comes as the terror group shows increased aggression throughout vulnerable areas of Syria and Iraq, whose governments are largely focused on curbing the coronavirus pandemic.

While ISIS no longer controls territory in Iraq and has lost significant resources and manpower, it is still able to cause damage through small-scale attacks on security forces and targeted assaults in rural areas outside the government’s reach.

Newly appointed Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has vowed to make the fight against ISIS a priority even as he tries to restructure the government, address lingering financial problems and deal with the fallout from months-long protests.

A few days after taking office, Kadhimi reinstated Lieutenant General Abdul Wahab al-Saadi, a respected military figure who played a central role in ousting ISIS from Mosul in 2017, to his post as head of the Counter-Terror Services (CTS).