HotSpots H2O: Islamic State’s Scorched-Earth Tactics Devastate Promising Harvests

Islamic State militants have burned thousands of acres of farmland in Syria and Iraq. Photo courtesy of Pixnio.

Wheat and barley fields across Iraq and Syria are ablaze following attacks by Islamic State militants. Although the terrorist group is largely defeated in both countries, remaining fighters are burning farmland to further damage the war-weary region.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks in its weekly newsletter, and warned of more throughout the summer. Since fighting began in 2014, the group has targeted basic infrastructure that delivers water, electricity, and food, including canals, power stations, and oil wells.

The fires are especially devastating after this season’s promising growing season, which was set to produce the best harvest in years.

Growing conditions for winter cereals were “exceptionally positive” due to well-timed and abundant rains, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization noted earlier this year. The flourishing harvest was hampered somewhat when heavy flooding struck parts of Iraq at the end of March, but good yields were still anticipated.

A strong harvest is now less likely. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates that 74,000 acres (30,000 hectares) of farmland in Hassakeh, Raqqa, and Aleppo provinces have been burned. In Iraq, local reports say hundreds of fields were torched, with some fires raging for days. Dozens of civilians and firefighters have been killed or injured while trying to extinguish the blazes.

The fires are yet another misfortune in a region that has suffered years of drought and violence.

“The life that we live here is already bitter,” Hussain Attiya, a farmer in northern Iraq, told the Associated Press. “If the situation continues like this, I would say that no one will stay here. I plant 500 to 600 acres every year. Next year, I won’t be able to do that because I can’t stay here and guard the land day and night.”

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