by Firas Al-Atraqchi Freelance Columnist / IslamOnline –
(October 20, 2003) — Day after day, disturbing news continues to emerge from Iraq, detailing the systematic and callous destruction of Iraq’s flora and agricultural areas
Citing security issues, US troops have cut down precious date trees — often the life-sustaining source of many Iraqi villages — burned and razed crops, agricultural yields and fields, drained swamps, and burned grassy knolls where it is alleged that Iraqi ‘terrorists’ are hiding.
In June, CNN aired a segment on US military efforts to pursue and capture ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In the background, CNN viewers were allowed a three-second glimpse of US soldiers lighting bushes, trees and grassy riverbeds. The bushes came to life in a blazing fire. Presumably, kerosene or some fuel was used. Then CNN cut in with another shot of a US patrol.
The segment showing US soldiers burning the aforementioned areas was never shown again.
Now, evidence is coming to light that US soldiers at the very least are unfazed and negligent of Iraq’s agriculture and at the very most carrying out a systematic campaign of punishing farmers and their farmlands on the suspicion that they harbor ‘Saddam loyalists’ or other anti-American forces.
Torching Fields Fuels Anti-Americanism
Ironically, the punitive measures themselves are spawning a new breed of anti-American might that cares little for Saddam and even less for politics. The psyche of the Middle Eastern farmer, whether it be in Jordan , Upper Egypt or in the Tigris-Euphrates river valleys of Iraq, is that life is based on the land, and the land is the pride and honor of every farmer. When the land is defiled and violated, it becomes incumbent upon the farmer to avenge the honor of his family and tribe.
This is nothing new; it has existed in this fashion since Sumerians began using irrigated farming techniques 5,000 years ago. Yet, probably because of cultural ignorance, US forces continue to destroy valuable crops.
“US soldiers driving bulldozers, with jazz blaring from loudspeakers, have uprooted ancient groves of date palms as well as orange and lemon trees in central Iraq as part of a new policy of collective punishment of farmers who do not give information about guerrillas attacking US troops,” says journalist Patrick Cockburn in The Independent.
Last week, Israeli forces bulldozed 220 homes in Gaza, leaving some 1,500 Palestinians homeless. Israeli forces cited security concerns: tunnels used to smuggle weapons could have been under these houses. Israeli forces have also been known to blow up the homes of families of suicide bombers.
Collective punishment. But in Iraq it is producing deadly results for US forces.
Farmers have sworn to destroy every American they see, whether it be a journalist, businessman or soldier — it does not matter.
Iraqi farmers have long issued complaints against US forces, dating back to the mid 1990s when the Baathist government accused US and UK fighters of firebombing valuable crop fields in the south and north of the country.
In April 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Iraqi doctors had complained of depleted uranium making its way into the Iraqi food chain and contaminating Iraqi farmland. The doctors cited the unusual rise in stomach cancer and leukemia in farming and rural communities.
Farmers Provoked to Resist US Troops
According to an investigative article by Jeffery St. Clair in Counterpunch, the war in Iraq has proven particularly difficult for farming communities to stomach. He says that the consequent looting and wanton violence left precious irrigation systems destroyed, warehouses and grain silos unusable, and very little fuel for nearly-defunct tractors and harvesters.
The farmers have not received any assistance or guidance from the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) or the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).
Further adding to the farmers’ frustrations is that both the CPA and IGC are about to abolish the food-rationing system set up by Saddam’s government — a system that the United Nations labeled the most efficient in the world. Economic analysts have warned that this would seriously endanger the livelihood of the 60 percent of Iraqis who rely on that system for sustenance.
While foreign governments meet to pledge financial assistance to the rebuilding of Iraq (the European Union has promised $234 million, the UK government $300 million), and the US Congress debates demanding that Iraq pay back a suggested 20-billion-dollar loan, the Iraqi farmer is left in a quagmire. He must care for his extended family and endure constant harassment from US troops who smash their way into the sanctity of his home, rummage through his private things, and see his wife (wives) and female relatives in a private setting [A grievous affront to Muslim culture – Ed.]. He has no one to voice his concerns to, no one to take up his cause and no one to reimburse his financial losses.
When political commentators question who comprises the Iraqi resistance, they now have their answer. It is not the radical “Islamists,” as western media has called them. It is not the misguided impudence of Osama bin Laden’ s flock. It is not foreign fighters who seek to find Iraq a convenient battleground against all things American.
No, it is the Iraqi farmer, the most basic of the Iraqi peoples — a man who has toiled the land in the tradition of his forefathers, stretching back to the Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian empires.
Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Canadian journalist of Iraqi heritage. Holding an MA in Journalism and Mass Communication, he has eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.