ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – As a recent wave of crop fires that Kurdish farmers charge is a result of racially-motivated intimidation continued on Wednesday, the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture released a statement detailing the massive scope of the destruction so far.
The new blazes spread across fields in two separate locations in the disputed province of Kirkuk, an area with an infamous history of "Arabization," or forced displacement of Kurds in favor of ethnic Arabs, during the former reign of Saddam Hussein.
”The fire in Pirde [Altun Kipri] spread in the villages of Sarber and Qaesalam,” said a local witness who told Kurdistan 24 that he was sure the fire had been intentionally set by Arab Iraqis claiming to be the rightful owners of the lands.
In the subdistrict of Sargaran, witnesses estimated that new fires there had resulted in the ruin of between 2,500 and 3,000 acres of farmland.
Kawa Kakakhan, a farmer from the village of Qochaya told Kurdistan 24, “In addition to the crops in our village, the villages of Gharaba, Sarbasha, and Darbandy faced the same fate, with their lands and crops being reduced to ashes.”
He added, “The cause of the fire remains unknown, but we are skeptical about these incidents since recent episodes of fire have been increasing, especially in the disputed areas where Arab citizens had been previously brought – to Sargaran Sub-district – claiming that the Kurdish-owned lands were legally theirs.”
The Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture released data of the area destroyed from the time they started on May 8. The most recent fires in Kirkuk were not included, having occurred before the list was compiled.
According to the ministry, Kirkuk Province has seen a total of 3,719 acres destroyed, with Nineveh Province almost tripling this amount at 11,183 acres consumed. In 11 different provinces, a total of 30,730 acres of farmland have been burned down in less than a month.
Kurds in the province of Diyala have also repeatedly complained in recent weeks about a renewed systematic campaign taking place to change the local demography in an effort to weaken the Kurdish position in ongoing disputes between Baghdad and Erbil.
On Tuesday, the Independent High Commission for Human Rights in Iraq submitted an urgent appeal to the federal government to respond to the fires, specifically in reference to the those in Nineveh.
The commission's Deputy Chief Ali Abdelkarim Mezer called on the federal government to act quickly and “contain the fires that have consumed thousands of acres of farmland and its crops in the Sinjar [Shingal] and Ba’aj Districts.”
According to Mezer, the human rights commission had previously requested officials take action, warning that the losses would substantially impact future food supply in Iraq as well as the livelihood of farmers for whom it is the primary source of income.
However, he noted that the government has yet to respond to the appeals that Baghdad send relevant authorities, including additional fire trucks and civil defense teams, to prevent further fire-related incidents from spreading and causing damage to critical infrastructure such as water supply and power lines in the area.
Shortly before the statement, civil defense units in Nineveh had been able to contain fires in only two areas and had requested the Kurdistan Region's provinces of Erbil and Duhok to wait on standby to provide them with additional support if necessary.
Editing by John J. Catherine