ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraqi authorities have just announced their latest statistics for mass fires that have razed acres of agricultural fields by the tens of thousands since late April, with disputed territories having seen the most destruction.
The number of crop fires in northern and central Iraq has escalated in the past two months, coinciding with the harvest seasons of wheat and barley, both commonly grown in the country.
While authorities said some of these incidents were “accidental” and others “subversive,” Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has played down many of the more dramatic narratives as “media hype”.
According to the latest statistics issued by the Directorate of Civil Defense in Iraq, 329 separate blazes have destroyed wheat and barley fields between May 8 and June 29. The fires took place in a total of 12 different provinces; Nineveh, Salahuddin, Kirkuk, Diyala, Baghdad, Babylon, Maysan, Wasit, Diwaniyah, Muthanna, Anbar, and Najaf.
Over 54,000 of acres were burned while about two million acres of land have been "saved" from burning throughout the country, the directorate said.
The statistics did not include the autonomous Kurdistan Region, where incidents of fires were recorded in a limited manner, especially near Erbil and Duhok.
In Nineveh alone, 77 fires razed 42,000 acres of land. The fires in Salahuddin amounted to 103 incidents, destroying 5,690 acres of wheat and barley. In Kirkuk, there were 69 fires, for which farmers lost 5,500 acres of crops, according to the statistics of the Iraqi directorate. In Diyala, 35 fire incidents were registered which burned about 633 acres of agricultural land.
The directorate did not reveal all the causes of the fires but recently said some were due to lit cigarettes being thrown into fields or other fires being caused by harvesting machines.
Over the past two months, the Islamic State has repeatedly claimed responsibility for burning agricultural lands in both Iraq and Syria.
In early June, Iraq's human rights commission urged officials in Baghdad to take serious action to limit the destruction, 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. Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi recently said his government had bought more than 3.5 million tons of local Iraqi wheat since the start of the harvest, a rise from production levels for decades despite the fires.
Editing by John J. Catherine