Lawmaker and local authorities cooperate to investigate Khanaqin deforestation

Diyala, August 2021: Date orchards are burnt and dried out in Khanaqin district and traded as residential plots. Leila Ahmad

By Laila Ahmed

The municipality of Khanaqin district, northeast of Baghdad, has presented all the farms and land that have been encroached on to a lawmaker who is investigating the issue.

Sozan Masnour, a member of the Iraqi parliament from Diyala province, sent a letter to the municipality of Khanaqin on April 7, demanding clarification on the destruction of palm plants in Khanaqin and encroachment on the land of the Ministries of Municipalities and Finance 15 days of payment.

“I visited the municipality of Khanaqin and they gave me some documents about the encroachment on the land and farms of Khanaqin and changing its type to housing units,” Mansour told KirkukNow on May 17th.

"The municipality has sent a letter to the Khanaqin governor's office to prevent the destruction of date palm orchards in Khanaqin."

In August 2021, KirkukNow published a report on the issue of bulldozing palm groves in Khanaqin, in which it stated, “Dozens of farmers in Khanaqin uproot and burn palm trees in order to convert them into residential plots and sell them for larger amounts, without referring to the government and with the support of influential people, at a time government offices in town affirmed that the rule of law is to be enforced by the higher authorities in order to put an end to these abuses.

According to statistics from the Khanaqin District Agriculture Department, there are 2,254 dunams of orchards registered in the district for farmers, most of which are palm orchards, in addition to 160 dunams for the state let to farmers per contracts.

KirkukNow has found out that in many cases, the farmers set fire stealthily and purposefully to their palm farms so that they are not held accountable by the government for draught, cut out and fire in the farms.

According to law for protection of agricultural lands number 3 of 2008, owners are not entitled to turn agricultural lands int residential unless approved by the government.

Video story by KirkukNow in December 2021 about the deforestation of Khanaqin.

"The municipality has identified all the land plots that have been encroached on. It turned out that most of the lands belong to the Ministries of Agriculture and Commerce, but now they have been divided into plots and sold," Mansour added.

"We are currently investigating and providing more evidence and the Ministry of Commerce is scheduled to respond to us in the next three days," she said.

Mansour affirmed she has talked to the mayor office which denied any violations in 2021 and 2022.

"We have received all the evidence and whoever is responsible for the incident will be brought to justice," he said.

Local officials confirmed the violations and emphasized the need for iron state grip to implement law.

Earlier, Kamran Abdullah, director of agriculture in Khanaqin, told KirkukNow that 200 dunams of palm plants have been burned and turned into residential units in the past four years.

Khanaqin Mayor, Aws Ibrahim, insisted that the law requires great force and law to stop these violations against agricultural lands and farms.

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