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.


France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency
Updated 4 sec ago
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France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency

France’s Macron to meet Lebanon PM in Paris Friday: French presidency
PARIS: France’s president Emmanuel Macron will meet Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati and army chief Joseph Aoun on Friday in Paris, the French presidency said.
The announcement on Thursday comes as Lebanon grapples with a deep economic and political crisis, compounded by cross-border fire between Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and neighboring Israel that has renewed fears of a regional conflict.

US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Updated 59 min 17 sec ago
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US, UK unveil sweeping sanctions on Iran’s drone program

An Iranian military truck carries parts of a Sayad 4-B missile past a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
  • Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control targeted 16 people and two entities in Iran that produce engines that power the drones used in the April 13 attack on Israel
  • UK is targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s drone and ballistic missile industries

WASHINGTON: The United States and the United Kingdom announced widespread sanctions against Iran’s military drone program on Thursday in response to its weekend attack against Israel.
Washington is targeting “16 individuals and two entities enabling Iran’s UAV production, including engine types that power Iran’s Shahed variant UAVs, which were used in the April 13 attack,” the Treasury Department said in a statement, referring to Iran’s unmanned aerial vehicle program.
The United Kingdom is also imposing sanctions “targeting several Iranian military organizations, individuals and entities involved in Iran’s UAV and ballistic missile industries,” the Treasury Department said.
Tehran launched its first ever direct military attack on Israel late Saturday in retaliation for an April 1 air strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus — widely blamed on Israel — that killed seven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two generals.
The large-scale attack involved more than 300 drones and missiles, most of which were shot down by Israel and its allies including the US and the UK, causing little damage.
In response to the attacks, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel reserves the right to protect itself.
“Today, in coordination with the United Kingdom and in consultation with partners and allies, we are taking swift and decisive action to respond to Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.
“We’re using Treasury’s economic tools to degrade and disrupt key aspects of Iran’s malign activity, including its UAV program and the revenue the regime generates to support its terrorism,” she continued.
“We will continue to deploy our sanctions authority to counter Iran with further actions in the days and weeks ahead,” she added.
Alongside its sanctions against Iran’s UAV program, the US is also sanctioning five companies providing parts for Iran’s steel industry.
“Iran’s metals sector generates the equivalent of several billion dollars in revenue annually, with the majority coming from steel exports,” the Treasury Department said, adding it had also sanctioned an automaker involved in providing “material support” to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.


Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
Updated 18 April 2024
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Israel bombs Gaza as Middle East tense after Iranian attack

A Palestinian carries a gas cooker as he walks amidst the debris of a destroyed building in the city of Nuseirat.
  • “We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said
  • Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike

JERUSALEM: Israel launched more deadly strikes on besieged Gaza on Thursday as world powers watched nervously whether the country would retaliate against a weekend attack by its arch enemy Iran.
The Israeli army said it had bombed dozens of targets in the Palestinian coastal territory of 2.4 million people, more than six months into the bloodiest ever Gaza war.
Weeks of talks toward an Israel-Hamas truce and hostage release deal have stalled, according to Qatar’s prime minister who said the Gulf emirate was now “reassessing our role as mediator.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas over its October 7 attack on Israel, also stressed on Wednesday that Israel “reserves the right to protect itself” against Iran.
The Islamic republic last weekend carried out its first ever attack to directly target its regional foe but Israel, backed by its allies, intercepted most of the 300 missiles and drones and suffered no deaths.
Iran’s attack was retaliation for an April 1 air strike, which it blamed on Israel, on the consular annex of its embassy in Damascus.
The international community has urged de-escalation since Iran’s attack on Israel which came after months of high tensions and violence involving Israel and Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
“We are on the edge of a war in the Middle East which will be sending shock-waves to the rest of the world,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said ahead of a G7 meeting in Capri, Italy.
Iran has warned of “a fierce and severe response” if Israel launches any further attacks after seven of its Revolutionary Guards died in the consular strike.
However, Tehran had also sought to calm tensions through indirect diplomatic channels with its other major adversary, the United States, which is Israel’s top ally and military supplier.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in New York for a UN meeting, said Iran had “tried to tell the United States clearly” that it is “not looking for the expansion of tension in the region.”
Washington has made clear it won’t join any Israeli attack on Iran, but has pledged to instead impose new punitive sanctions against Iran.
The European Union on Wednesday said it would impose new sanctions on Iran’s drone and missile producers.
Israeli public broadcaster Kan said Netanyahu, after discussions with US President Joe Biden, decided not to proceed with pre-arranged plans for retaliatory strikes on Iran.
“Diplomatic sensitivities came into play,” a senior Israeli official told Kan, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official added that there would be a response, but that it would be different to the one initially planned.
US broadcaster ABC News, citing three unnamed Israeli sources, reported that Israel had “prepared for and then aborted retaliatory strikes against Iran on at least two nights this past week.”
Among the range of possible responses considered by Israel were an attack on Iranian proxies in the region or a cyberattack, the sources told ABC.
German airline Lufthansa extended its suspension of flights to and from Tehran and Beirut to the end of April and said its planes would continue avoiding Iranian airspace.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed a European Union announcement of sanctions on Iran as “an important step” and wrote on X that “Iran must be stopped now before it is too late.”
Iran’s attack on Israel “is succeeding in taking the focus, particularly the media spotlight, off of the Gaza famine and the Gaza war and the loss of life that is taking place there,” Roxane Farmanfarmaian, a Middle East/North Africa specialist at the University of Cambridge’s POLIS department, told AFP.
“And that was very much I think what Israel planned to do,” she said.
An AFP correspondent in Gaza said Israeli artillery shelling and aircraft strikes again hit Gaza City overnight.
The Israeli military said it struck dozens of militant targets over the past day.
The war started after Hamas launched their unprecedented attack on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also took about 250 hostages. Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,970 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll on Thursday from the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Gaza’s civil defense said Thursday it had recovered 11 more bodies in the southern city of Khan Yunis during the night.
Israel had also bombed the far-southern city of Rafah.
Gaza rescue crews recovered the corpses of eight family members, including five children and two women, from a house in Rafah’s Al-Salam neighborhood, the civil defense service said.
One woman in Rafah, Jamalat Ramidan, told AFP she and crying children fled the carnage of a strike, stumbling over “body parts and corpses scattered all over the place.”
Talks toward a ceasefire have stalled, said Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, despite months of effort also involving United States and Egyptian officials.
He said his country was undertaking “a complete re-evaluation of its role because there has been damage to Qatar,” which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Israel has faced growing global opposition to the Gaza war, which the United Nations and aid agencies say has left the north of the territory on the brink of famine.
Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected this, saying Israeli efforts were “above and beyond” what is needed “on the humanitarian issue,” his office said.
The UN Security Council was preparing to vote soon on an Algeria-drafted resolution for full United Nations membership for a Palestinian state, diplomatic sources said.
However, the veto-wielding United States has repeatedly expressed opposition to such a move.


Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says
Updated 18 April 2024
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Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says

Dubai Airport will return to full operational capacity within 24 hours, COO says
  • The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday

DUBAI: Dubai International Airport will return to its full operational capacity within 24 hours, Dubai Airports Chief Operating Officer Majed Al-Joker told state news agency WAM on Thursday.
The hub has struggled to clear a backlog of flights in the aftermath of heavy rain that swamped the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
“Once operations are back to normal, we will assess the damages and would be able to give figure for the size of losses,” Al Joker told Al Arabiya TV in a televised interview.


British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group
Updated 18 April 2024
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British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group

British MPs urge government to designate IRGC a terror group
  • Signatories to open letter say Iranian organization has ‘never posed a greater threat to UK’
  • Proscription would put Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on par with Daesh, Al-Qaeda

LONDON: A cross-party group of more than 50 MPs and Lords peers in the UK have demanded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps be designated a terrorist organization.

The cross-party group, which includes former home secretaries Suella Braverman and Priti Patel, made the request in an open letter to The Times.

The IRGC is a key component of Iran’s military and power-projection capabilities. More than 125,000 personnel serve in its ranks, spread across wings including the Quds Force, the overseas element responsible for liaising with and supporting militias in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. In recent years, the IRGC has also built a relationship with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The open letter, signed by 134 people, follows last weekend’s Iranian attack on Israel, which signatories described as the “latest chapter of destructive terror by the IRGC.”

It says: “The government has combated extremism and terrorism by proscribing Hamas and Hezbollah but it is not enough.

“The IRGC is the primary source of ideological radicalisation, funding, equipment and training for these groups.

“The government must act against the root cause and proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.”

Iran’s attack was a response to Israel’s strike on its consulate in Damascus that killed 11 people, including senior commanders.

Former US President Donald Trump designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization in 2019, a year before the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force.

But the UK has been reluctant to follow the US measure for fear of breaking diplomatic communication channels with Tehran.

As part of sanctions on Iran targeting its nuclear program, however, the UK sanctioned the IRGC, freezing the assets of its members and implementing travel bans.

A terrorist designation in the UK would put the IRGC on par with Daesh and Al-Qaeda, and make it illegal to support the group, with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.

The 134 signatories said the IRGC has “never posed a greater threat to the UK,” accusing “thugs” belonging to the group of stabbing an Iranian dissident in London last month.

The letter was coordinated by the UK-Israel All Parliamentary Party Group, which includes former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick.