Jalil Ibrahim, a Kaka’i farmer, has gone bankrupt three times over the course of six years as a result of volatility in local security and political circumstances. “Whatever changes happen, we, the Kaka’i minority, pay the price for it,” Ibrahim said.
The Islamic State (IS) attacks in 2014, the emergence of a security vacuum after the Kurdish independence referendum, and the outbreak of COVID-19 have all posed significant threats to Ibrahim and his family’s livelihood.
A portion of Ibrahim’s fields lay unharvested due to the enforcement of a curfew aimed at containing the spread of the novel coronavirus, which deprived Ibrahim of easy access to his land. Other parts of his property lie fallow.
“I am discouraged that I will not be able to earn an income this year. The coronavirus bankrupted me; whatever changes happen, we, the Kaka’i minority, pay the price for it,” claimed Ibrahim as he worked on his farm.
Grain crops are burning in Daquq district
This month last year, Ibrahim had been busy with harvesting his crops and was making plans for this year’s harvest.
The start of the miseries
Jalil Ibrahim, a father of four children, worked as a farmer and a shepherd in the Kaka’i village of Ali Saray until 2014.
“We farmed without problems and planted all kinds of vegetables; tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, watermelon, and grains. Traffic issues did not exist, there was the market. We were happy and did not know what exhaustion was,” Ibrahim said.
We farmed without problems and planted all kinds of vegetables
Ibrahim added that by 2014, he was able to buy a house and a car. The economy, he said, was prospering until 2014 when the emergence of IS reversed this progress.
In mid-2014, most Kaka’i villages in Daquq district were evacuated as IS launched an offensive against Kirkuk. Everything Ibrahim had built over the years was lost when he abandoned his village.
“IS took 300 dunams of land from us, which endangered our lives and source of income. Most of us evacuated the villages,” said Ibrahim, explaining how he went bankrupt the first time. Unable to work on his land, Ibrahim moved to the center of Daquq district and began working as a laborer.
In 2016, a large Peshmerga force from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was deployed to southern Daquq. Alongside Iraqi forces, it retook the Kaka’i villages that fell under IS control, paving the way for the return of the Kaka’i villagers.
Ibrahim resumed farming. From Daquq, he went to his fields early in the morning and came back home after sunset.
I started farming again. I produced a lot and sold my produce in the market
“IS still posed a threat. My family remained in Daquq, but I was visiting my farms on daily basis,” he recalled. “I started farming again. I produced a lot and sold my produce in the market, but it did not last long; I abandoned my village once more in 2018.”
On October 17, former Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi ordered the return of Iraqi forces to the disputed territories. The resulting in the withdrawal of the Kurdish forces from the area created a security vacuum in the Kaka’i villages.
The security vacuum gave insurgents the opportunity to attack Kaka’i villages in Daquq. So far, five Kaka’i villages out of fifteen have been evacuated and another three have been almost completely abandonment since 2017.
Ibrahim explained that before the 2018 harvest, unknown gunmen had burned 130 donums of his grain. He added that his house was blown up and his fish pond was damaged. He was also kidnapped but miraculously escaped, albeit wounded in a confrontation with the gunmen.
As a result, Ibrahim again left his village and went bankrupt for the second time.
Early this year, Ibrahim rented a 25 donum plot of land to plant grains in Talabani areas near Daquq and again started farming.
“The security situation in these areas improved. I mustered all of my physical and financial strength and spent a large amount of money, but I was confronted by the coronavirus,” Ibrahim said, “I hardly visit my farms due to the curfew… some of my fields dried up because I was not able to irrigate them.”
I hardly visit my farms due to the curfew
“I could not till my fields on time, which is why they have not grown yet,” he added.
After the IS attacks and the post-referendum security vacuum, COVID-19 once again bankrupted Ibrahim, and presented a major threat to the entire Kaka’i community in Daquq.
Before coronavirus, this Kaka’i farmer earned 40 to 50 million dinars (approximately 37,500 USD) annually but “this year,” Ibrahim says, “I have not made one dinar.”
Ibrahim has left his 300 donum plot and has lost his house and fish pond. He waits for his crops to grow – the only option he has left as he can longer work as a laborer – and for the economy to improve.
The struggles the Kaka’i minority in Daquq and other areas face have caused the community great anxiety. Their attempts to protect themselves while remaining in their villages have not been unsuccessful as their concerns have gone unaddressed by the government.
Despite the events that cost Ibrahim his work and income, the Kaka’i minority has gradually abandoned its villages. These trends may lead to the migration of the entire community from southern Kirkuk’s Daquq district, an area regarded as part of the Kaka’i homeland.
“When I put my head on the pillow,” Ibrahim says, “visions of my parched fields appear to me … the coronavirus also dried up my life. This has ruined me and my family.”