IS ‘annihilation’ of Iraqi farms leaves haunting legacy

Published December 13, 2018, 9:32 AM

by AJ Siytangco

By Agence France-Presse

The Islamic State group’s “deliberate, wanton annihilation” of agricultural lands in Iraq’s northern Sinjar amounts to war crimes, haunting farmers a year after the jihadists’ defeat, Amnesty International said Thursday.

An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture illustration taken February 18, 2016. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo / MANILA BULLETIN)
An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture illustration taken February 18, 2016. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo / MANILA BULLETIN)

A picture illustration of an Islamic State flag

Based on interviews with dozens of farmers, Amnesty’s new report found the jihadists’ “scorched-earth tactics” meant Sinjar’s farmers, particularly those from the minority Yazidi community, could not come home.

The report was released a day after Nobel Prize winner and Yazidi activist Nadia Murad visited Baghdad to call for more government support to her native Sinjar.

“Our investigation reveals how IS carried out deliberate, wanton destruction of Iraq’s rural environment around Sinjar Mountain, wreaking havoc on the long-term livelihoods of Yazidis and other agrarian communities,” said Richard Pearshouse, Amnesty’s senior crisis adviser.

IS overran Sinjar in August 2014, killing Yazidi men, forcefully enlisting boys as soldiers and kidnapping more than 6,000 women and girls as “sex slaves”.

Over the next three years, according to Amnesty’s report, the jihadists also stole farming equipment and electricity lines, burned orchards, and packed rubble, oil, or other foreign objects into vital irrigation wells across Sinjar.

“Sabotage of irrigation wells and other destruction amounts to war crimes,” the London-based watchdog said

“They took what they wanted and what they could not take, they broke,” said Dakhil, a farmer in his early 20s from a southern village in Sinjar.

Before IS’s assault, he and his father grew wheat and herded sheep and chickens.

They fled IS in August 2014, but when they returned to their farm last year after IS’s fall, they found it ravaged, with their animals and equipment stolen and their water well blocked.

“We have come back to dead land. It’s as if we never worked here at all,” he told Amnesty.

Another farmer, Hadi, fled Sinjar in 2014 to nearby Dohuk. When he tried to go back, he found his well clogged with rubble and his olive and pomegranate trees chopped down.

“They did this to send a message: that you have nothing to return to, so if you survive don’t even think of coming back,” the man in his 40s said.

Sinjar’s Yazidi community numbered 550,000 before IS, but the jihadists’ sweep in 2014 forced 100,000 to flee Iraq and even more to seek refuge in nearby Kurdistan.

For three years, Iraqi forces, paramilitary units, and the US-led coalition fought IS until they declared victory in December 2017.

But the battles “eviscerated Iraq’s agricultural production, now an estimated 40 percent lower than 2014 levels,” Amnesty found.

Only a fifth of Iraq’s farmers have access to irrigation, down from two-thirds before IS. The worst-affected farmlands saw 95 percent of their livestock lost.

Amnesty said the “jobless and insecure vacuum” left behind by the jihadists could serve up easy prey for IS sleeper cells looking to replenish their ranks.

“Unless there is urgent government assistance, the long-term damage inflicted on Iraq’s rural environment will reverberate for years to come,” Pearshouse said.