BAQUBA/NINEVEH PLAINS, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi farmer Riyadh woke on May 13 to find his wheat crop ablaze. In his fields in Diyala province, he found the remains of a mobile phone and plastic bottle which he believes was an explosive device detonated in the night to start the fire.
Riyadh and his neighbors in Sheikh Tami village put out the blaze and saved most of his crop but hundreds of other farmers in Iraq have been less fortunate since ISIS urged its supporters to wage economic warfare with fire.
Since the harvest began in April, crop fires have raged across Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh and Salahuddin provinces while the government, battered by years of war and corruption, has few resources to counter a new hit-and-run insurgency.
The government in Baghdad is playing down the crisis, saying very few fires have been started deliberately and only a fraction of the country’s farmland has been affected.
But officials in Iraq’s breadbasket province Nineveh warned that if the fires spread to storage sites, a quarter of this year’s bumper harvest could be at risk, potentially ending Iraq’s dream of self-sufficiency after years of disruption due to drought and ISIS rule.