A farmer works the fields in Kurdistan. Photo: Farzin Hassan | Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Farmers in Sargaran, Kirkuk province have been ordered by local authorities to stop cultivating their fields until the ownership of their land has been established. A Kurdish MP in the Iraqi parliament says the decree is politically motivated and illegal.
Zahir Ali Hassan, head of the Kirkuk Agriculture Department, issued a letter from Governor Rakan al-Jabouri calling on the Sargaran agricultural office to warn farmers not to cultivate or use their land.
According to the letter, the decree was issued to prevent tensions between Kurdish farmers and Arabs who have returned to the region following the October 16, 2017 events – claiming the lands belong to them.
A committee set up by former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to address the issue must first finish its work and rule on the case before the lands can resume cultivation, the letter says. Farmers across 38 villages will have to leave their land fallow for a year – disrupting business.
The villages were originally inhabited by Kurds until the Baathist regime launched it Arabization process in 1975, forcing the Kurds to flee. After the liberation in 2003, the Arabs were compensated under the Iraqi constitution and left the areas for Kirkuk's mostly Kurdish owners to return.
However, after the October 16, 2017 events, which saw the Peshmerga withdraw and Iraqi forces take over, the Arabs returned from central and southern Iraq and demanded the eviction of the Kurds.
“Around seven Arab families have returned to the Palkana village to confiscate our lands,” farmer Farhad Ismael told Rudaw. He says a Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitia unit has been stationed in the village.
Rebwar Taha, a Kirkuk representative in the Iraqi parliament, told Rudaw he is aware of the letter and believes it is “illegal and politically motivated”.
The Kirkuk governor “has unilaterally taken the decision and this matter is vested in the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry to deal with it,” he added.
Taha said the Iraqi Agriculture Ministry had already ruled the Kurdish farmers are allowed to continue cultivating the land regardless of the ongoing dispute.
He said they will ramp up their efforts to revoke the decree after the resumption of the Iraqi parliament’s session on November 6 “in order to resolve this issue”.