Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers
Iraqi farmers watch as excavators build up dirt barriers to stem the flow of contaminated water following an oil spill on agricultural land in Hamrin, north of Tikrit, Iraq. (AFP)
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Updated 27 February 2024
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Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

Oil spills pile on pressure for Iraq’s farmers

AL-MEAIBDI, Iraq: Iraq enjoys tremendous oil wealth but many hard-scrabble farmers in the north say crude spills have contaminated their lands, piling on pressure as they already battle drought.

Amid the hills of Salaheddin province, puddles of the viscous black liquid pollute the otherwise fertile and green fields, rendering vast swaths of farmland barren.

“The oil has damaged all that the land can give,” said one farmer, Abdel Majid Said, 62, who owns six hectares (15 acres) in the village of Al-Meaibdi.

“Every planted seed is ruined. This land has become useless.”

Oil spills in Iraq — a country ravaged by decades of conflict, corruption and decaying infrastructure — have contaminated farmland in the northern province, especially during the winter rains.

Authorities blame the militants of the Daesh group who overran large swaths of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and were only defeated in Iraq three years later.

The group blew up oil pipelines and wells and also dug primitive oil storage pits, causing crude to seep into the ground, from where annual rains wash it out again.

But the local farmers also complain that the state has been too slow to clean up the mess.

In Al-Meaibdi and the nearby hills of Hamrin, authorities are struggling to find a sustainable solution to the problem, which adds to a litany of environmental challenges.

Iraq, also battered by blistering summer heat and severe drought, is ranked by the United Nations as one of the five countries most vulnerable to key impacts of climate change.

In Hamrin, layers of sludge pile up as excavators build up dirt barriers — a temporary measure to stem the flow of contaminated water onto farmland below.

The oil not only damages the soil and crops but can also pollute groundwater in the water-scarce country.

Said, the farmer, said “the soil is no longer fertile — we have not been able to cultivate it since 2016.”

Some other farmers had already abandoned their lands, he added.

He pointed to a green plot of land so far untouched by the spills and said: “Look how the crops have grown there — but not even a grain has sprouted here.”

Oil spills have contaminated 500 hectares of wheat and barley fields in Salaheddin, said Mohamed Hamad from the environment department in the province.

Hamad pointed to the reign of Daesh, which collected revenues from oil production and smuggling by building makeshift refineries and digging primitive oil storage pits.

He said the group blew up the pipelines and wells of the oil fields of Ajil and Alas, causing crude oil to flood and collect in the Hamrin hills’ natural caves.

Earlier this month, due to heavy rain, oil remnants again poured into agricultural lands, Hamad said, and “unfortunately, the leak damaged land and crops.”

Authorities have buried the group’s makeshift storage pits, Amer Al-Meheiri, the head of the oil department in Salaheddin province, told Iraq’s official news agency INA last year.

Yet during the heavy rains, the oil continues to seep out.

Iraq’s crude oil sales make up 90 percent of budget revenues as the country recovers from years of war and political upheaval, leaving it overly reliant on the sector.

The country boasts 145 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, amounting to 96 years’ worth of production at the current rate, according to the World Bank.

But for many farmers, oil has been a scourge.

Abbas Taha, an agriculture official in Salaheddin, said “oil spills have been occurring frequently since 2016.”

“Farmers suffer a great loss because they no longer benefit from the winter season to grow wheat,” he said.

Some farmers have filed complaints against the state demanding compensation, only to find themselves lost in Iraq’s labyrinthine judicial system, tossed from one court to another.

But Taha insists that authorities plan to compensate those affected in a country where agricultural lands are shrinking as farmers are abandoning unprofitable plots hit by drought.

Due to the severe water scarcity, authorities are drastically reducing farm activity to ensure sufficient drinking water for Iraq’s 43 million people.

Hamad said his department had contacted the relevant authorities to remove oil remnants that would eventually seep through the soil to contaminate groundwater and wells.

The soil also needs to be treated by removing the top layer and replacing it, he said.

“We urged the prime minister, the agriculture minister and the oil minister to compensate the farmers suffering from this environmental disaster,” said 53-year-old farmer Ahmed Shalash.


Israeli PM Netanyahu says he will fight any sanctions on army battalions

Israeli PM Netanyahu says he will fight any sanctions on army battalions
Updated 2 min 46 sec ago
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Israeli PM Netanyahu says he will fight any sanctions on army battalions

Israeli PM Netanyahu says he will fight any sanctions on army battalions
  • On Saturday, Axios news site reported that Washington was planning to impose sanctions on Israel’s Netzah Yehuda battalion
  • “If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) — I will fight it with all my strength,” Netanyahu said

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would fight against sanctions being imposed on any Israeli military units after media reported that Washington was planning such a step against a battalion for alleged rights violations.
On Saturday, Axios news site reported that Washington was planning to impose sanctions on Israel’s Netzah Yehuda battalion that has operated in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli military said it was not aware of any measures being taken.
“If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) — I will fight it with all my strength,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
The Israeli military said that Netzah Yehuda battalion is an active combat unit that operates according to the principles of international law.
“Following publications about sanctions against the battalion, the IDF is not aware of the issue. If a decision is made on the matter it will be reviewed. The IDF works and will continue to work to investigate any unusual event in a practical manner and according to law,” the military said.


Iran’s Khamenei praises ‘success’ of military after Israel attack

Iran’s Khamenei praises ‘success’ of military after Israel attack
Updated 21 April 2024
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Iran’s Khamenei praises ‘success’ of military after Israel attack

Iran’s Khamenei praises ‘success’ of military after Israel attack
  • Supreme leader: ‘The armed forces showed a good image of their abilities and power and an admirable image of the Iranian nation’

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the country’s armed forces for their “success” in his first public comments since Tehran launched an unprecedented direct attack on Israel last week.
In a meeting with Iranian military commanders on Sunday, Khamenei praised the armed forces for their “success in recent events,” a week after the country’s first-ever direct attack on Israel from its own territory.
“The armed forces showed a good image of their abilities and power and an admirable image of the Iranian nation,” Khamenei said. “They also proved the emergence of the power of the Iranian nation’s determination at the international level.”
The remarks from Iran’s supreme leader are the first since Iran attacked Israel and since a reported Israeli attack on a military air base in central Isfahan province on Friday.
“The armed forces’ recent achievements have created a sense of splendour and magnificence about Islamic Iran in the eyes of the world,” Khamenei said in quotes posted on his official X account.
The Friday strike, which Khamenei did not mention, was a presumed response to Iran’s unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel which was itself a retaliation for an airstrike on the Iranian consular building in Damascus.
That attack, widely blamed on Israel, levelled the consular annex of the Iranian embassy and killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, including two generals.
Israel said it intercepted 99 percent of the more than 300 drones and missiles fired at it, with the aid of the United States and other allies and that those which got through caused only minor damage.
Addressing his country’s attack on Israel, Khamenei said “the issue of the number of missiles fired or the missiles that hit the target” was “secondary.”
“The main issue is the emergence of the willpower of the Iranian nation and the armed forces in the international arena,” he said, according to his official website.
Iran and Israel appeared to have stepped back from the brink of a broader conflict following Friday’s attack, which Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian appeared to downplay to US media on Saturday.
Speaking to NBC News, he dismissed it as “no attack” and said the weapons used were “at the level of toys,” adding that if there was “no new adventure” by Israel then Iran “will have no response.”
The comments helped to dampen fears of an all-out war between the arch-foes which could spread into a wider regional conflict.


Hamas says US military aid to Israel ‘green light’ for Gaza ‘aggression’

Hamas says US military aid to Israel ‘green light’ for Gaza ‘aggression’
Updated 21 April 2024
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Hamas says US military aid to Israel ‘green light’ for Gaza ‘aggression’

Hamas says US military aid to Israel ‘green light’ for Gaza ‘aggression’
  • Condemns US House of Representatives’ approval of billions of dollars in new military aid to Israel

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Palestinian militant group Hamas on Sunday condemned the US House of Representatives’ approval of billions of dollars in new military aid to Israel, much of which is to strengthen Israeli air defenses.

“This support, which violates international law, is a license and a green light for the Zionist extremist government (Israel) to continue the brutal aggression against our people,” Hamas said in a statement.

“We consider this step a confirmation of the official American complicity and partnership in the war of extermination waged by the fascist occupation army against our Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.”

On Saturday, the US House of Representatives approved $13 billion in military assistance to America’s historic ally Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Washington is already Israel’s largest military supplier.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the “much appreciated aid bill” showed strong support for Israel and “defends Western civilization.”

The US bill said that more than $9 billion will also be earmarked to address “the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world.”


Iran president to visit Pakistan, boost ties: Islamabad

Iran president to visit Pakistan, boost ties: Islamabad
Updated 21 April 2024
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Iran president to visit Pakistan, boost ties: Islamabad

Iran president to visit Pakistan, boost ties: Islamabad
  • Ebrahim Raisi will be accompanied by ‘a high-level delegation comprising the foreign minister... as well as a large business delegation’

ISLAMABAD: Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi will travel to Islamabad on Monday to meet his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said, as the two countries seek to mend ties following deadly cross-border attacks this year.
Raisi will be accompanied by “a high-level delegation comprising the foreign minister... as well as a large business delegation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
The tit-for-tat missile strikes in January in the porous border region of Balochistan — split between the two nations — stoked regional tensions already inflamed by the Israel-Hamas war.
Tehran carried out the strikes against an anti-Iran group in Pakistan the same week it targeted Iraq and Syria.
Pakistan responded with a raid on “militant targets” in Iran’s Sistan-Balochistan province, one of the few mainly Sunni Muslim regions in Shiite-dominated Iran.
Both countries have in the past accused each other of sheltering militants.
A visit to Islamabad by Tehran’s foreign minister led to the two sides pledging to improve dialogue and install liaison officers in both countries.
Sistan-Balochistan province has for years faced unrest involving cross-border drug-smuggling gangs and rebels from the Baloch ethnic minority, and Muslim extremists.
Raisi will also visit Lahore and Karachi to meet provincial leaders, according to the statement.
The countries will further strengthen ties and enhance cooperation in “trade, connectivity, energy, agriculture, and people-to-people contacts,” it added.
Pakistan is counting on a joint gas project with Iran to solve a long-running power crisis that has sapped its economic growth.
A $7.5-billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline intended to feed Pakistani power plants was inaugurated with great fanfare in March 2013.
But the project immediately stagnated following international sanctions on Iran.
Tehran has built its own section of the 1,800-kilometer (1,100-mile) pipeline, which should eventually link its South Pars gas fields to the Pakistani city of Nawabshah, near Karachi.
In February, Pakistan’s outgoing caretaker government approved the construction of an 80-kilometer section of the pipeline, primarily to avoid the payment of billions of dollars in penalties to Iran due to years of delays.
Washington has warned that Pakistan could face US sanctions, saying it does not support the pipeline going forward.


Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines

Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines
Updated 21 April 2024
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Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines

Emir of Qatar begins Asia tour with state visit to Philippines
  • During his tour the emir will speak with the countries’ leaders and senior officials

DUBAI: The Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad began his state visit to Manila, the Philippine capital, on Sunday as part of his Asia tour, reported the Qatar News Agency.

Sheikh Tamim received a welcome at Maharlika Presidential Airport from a delegation including Rafael Perpetuo Lotilla, minister of energy; Ahmed bin Saad Al-Humaidi, ambassador of Qatar to the Philippines; and Lilibeth Velasco Puno, ambassador of the Philippines to Qatar, along with several senior officials from the Philippine government and members of the Qatari embassy.

Accompanied by an official delegation, Sheikh Tamim’s itinerary includes visits to Bangladesh and Nepal following his time in the Philippines.

During his tour, the emir will speak with the countries’ leaders and senior officials, focusing on ways to enhance cooperation and discussing issues of common interest.

Additionally, agreements and memoranda of understanding are expected to be signed across various fields.