Iraqi army allows Kurdish farmers in Pirdy to harvest crops, Sargaran farmers still prohibited

An Iraqi army unit monitors the harvesting process of grain crops, harvested ahead of due time in fear of fires, Kirkuk, 2023. KirkukNow

By KirkukNow

The Kurdish farmers in a sub-district of Kirkuk reached an agreement with the Iraqi army to allow them to harvest their crops and transport them to Kirkuk, on the condition that the names of the farmers whose lands fall within the areas under the authority of the Peshmerga forces are handed over to the checkpoints to grant them passage permits.

   During the past two days, the Iraqi army prevented Kurdish farmers in both the Pirdy (Altun Kopri) and Sargaran sub-districts from harvesting, while Altun Kopri farmers were prevented from transporting grain crops grown in areas under control of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces are present to Kirkuk, even though it belongs to the governorate, and two farmers from the district were arrested on charges of violating the decision.

Regarding the farmers of five villages in the Sargaran, the Iraqi army decided to prevent them from harvesting under the pretext of not resolving disputes over ownership of agricultural lands in the region between Kurds and Arabs.

Hirsh Sharif, a notable from the Altun Kopri and an official in the organizing committee of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK, told (KirkukNow), “The problem arose after Kurdish farmers were prevented from transporting grain crops to Kirkuk because agricultural lands currently fall within the boundaries of the control of the Peshmerga forces and those in charge of the checkpoints. They suspect that these crops are smuggled.”

"There is currently an agreement with the Iraqi army to allow Kurdish farmers, starting today, (April 30), to transport their crops to Kirkuk without obstruction, provided that they have a letter from the sub-district administration and that their names are given to the checkpoints to allow them to transport grain crops."

In the seventies of the last century, according to a decision of the Supreme Revolutionary Command Council and the Northern Affairs Committee during the rule of the Baath Party, most of the agricultural lands belonging to Kurdish and Turkmen farmers were distributed in several regions of Kirkuk with agricultural contracts to Arab farmers who were relocated from central and southern Iraq and settled in Kirkuk, as part of the Arabization process and deportation of Kurdish and Turkmen families.

Ownership of agricultural lands is one of the complicated issues in the northern, oil-rich, multiethnic province of Kirkuk and other disputed territories that have remained suspended for 20 years and  between Kurdish, Turkmen and Arab farmers.

The Kurdish and Turkmen farmers claim they are the real owners of the lands confiscated by Saddam regime and given per contracts to Arab settlers.

The harvest season, especially the barley harvest, has been advanced 15 days in Kirkuk Governorate compared to previous years, and the reason is mainly due to farmers’ fear of fires, or fear of the damage that might be caused by the wave of rain forecasted by the Iraqi Meteorology Authority.

Regarding the issue of the farmers of Sargaran, Sharif said, “Their problem has not been solved. The army says there are disputes over the ownership of their lands.”

The northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, located 238 kilometers north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed province for 1,7 million Kurds, Sunni and Shiite Arabs, and Turkmen. It has long been at the center of disputed territories between Baghdad and Erbil.

In the new cabinet, headed by Muhammad Shia al-Sudani, the Supreme Committee for the Implementation of Article 140 has been reactivated, and one of its main tasks is to resolve the ownership of those agricultural lands.

Muhammad Amin, a representative of the farmers of Sargaran, told KirkukNow, “Harvesting crops is prohibited in five villages of Sargaran by decision of the Joint Operations Command in Kirkuk. The army raided our agricultural lands and stopped the work of harvesters and other agricultural machinery.”

In general, disputes over the ownership of 5,000-6,000 hectares of agricultural land within the borders of Sargaran subdistrict in Dibis (Dubiz) district have not yet been resolved, mainly in the five villages of: Kablah, Palkana, Kharabah, Sarbashakh and Shenagha.

According to information obtained by the KirkukNow, contracts for some of these agricultural lands were frozen by a decision of the Iraqi government, meaning that they will not be allowed to be plowed or harvested until their ownership is settled. However, some Kurdish farmers ignored the decision.

Agricultural lands in Kirkuk and a number of Iraqi governorates were distributed during the period of Baath Party rule to Arabs coming from central and southern Iraq in the form of contracts that were implemented until the fall of the Baathist regime in 2003, after which they left those lands.

Kirkuk province is one of the richest and most fertile areas in Iraq for grain production. According to agricultural statistics, wheat production last year reached 800,000 tons, triple of 2022 production.

The return of a portion of these farmers to their lands came at a time when the Iraqi Ministry of Justice, on September 23, 2020, directed a decision to seven Iraqi governorates, including Kirkuk, stressing the suspension of agricultural contracts dating back to the period of Baath Party rule. However, the Kirkuk Agriculture Department refuses to follow the ministerial order.

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