What the flooding spared, the fires could devour

Ninewa- Local farmers and civil defense teams try to control a fire in a Talafar crop field, May 2019  Photo: Jafar Talafari

Jafar Talafari- Ninewa

Despite the grueling heat, Ali Mousa and four of his sons are cautiously guarding their crop fields following a string of fire incidents which ripped through agricultural lands in Talafar.

“We fear that our crops become the next target of the fires which erupted in Talafar and its surrounding areas,” said Mousa who has tens of donums of wheat and barley crops that await harvesting.

The farmers’ fears continue to grow as it is still unclear what causes the fires; some blame it on Islamic State (IS) operatives, others believe that the ongoing political disputes are sparking these acts of sabotage, while some others attribute them to natural causes.

“The fire incidents taking place in wheat and barley farms has become a disturbing phenomenon for us. A fire breaks out almost every day,” he said.

Many believe that IS militants are behind these incidents, particularly after the group claimed responsibility for some of the incidents.

The new challenge facing farmers in Talafar at the beginning of the harvest season follows a wet winter season in which flooding caused by heavy rainfall inflicted damage on large areas of agricultural land.

Ninewa- Hundreds of donums of wheat and barley crops set ablaze, May 2019  Photo: Jafar Talafari 

“Some of the farmers were unable to plant their crops due to the threat of landmines and other unexploded ordnance left behind by IS, others were affected by the heavy rainfall, and we face the threat of fire," said Sa’ad Khalid, a local farmer.

“The biggest loser of what is happening is the country's economy eventually the people.”

According to statistics by the Ninewa civil defense department, 44 fire incidents have taken in the province between May 8 and June 4 of this year, damaging 11,183 donums of crop fields.

The head of the Tal Afar’s directorate of agriculture in, Salim Muhammed indicated that large swathes of wheat and barley crop fields have burned in Talafar, calling on farmers to guard their farms until the current harvest season ends.

Salim Muhammed attributed some of the incidents to electric sparks generated by harvest combiners while operating, citing a fire which recently rose in a Talafar farm which destroyed 20 donums of crops before it was put out by farmers and civil defense teams.

On May 28, Iraqi PM Adil Abdul-Mahdi denied that all the incidents were caused by IS, indicating that the majority of the fire incidents were blamed on disputes and the rise in temperatures, and stressed that such incidents are common in most countries.

In his weekly press conference on June 2, the PM commented on the issue saying the some of the fire incidents are “triggered by IS militants, and attributed others to local disputes, retaliation and electric sparks and called for not exaggerating the situation.”

Ninewa- Farmers join the efforts to put out their burned crops, May 2019  Photo: Jafar Talafari

In addition to civil defense teams, locals and security forces have took part the efforts to control the fires.

Hussein Barzinji, head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF)’s Operations in Talafar said their units assisted in the efforts to put out the fires which erupted in the area, expressing readiness to cooperate with the relevant departments.

Tal Afar is a disputed territory northwest of Ninewa province predominantly populated by the Turkmen community. The district was overran by IS in June 2014 forcing 225,000 people t flee their homes. After Talafar was recaptured in August 2017, approximately 45% of its population returned to their homes.


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