July 22, 2015

22/07/2015: Reuters: Islamic State uses grain to tighten grip in Iraq

For Salah Paulis, it came down to a choice between his faith and his crop, Reuters reports.

A wheat farmer from outside Mosul, Paulis and his family fled the militant group Islamic State early last month. The group overran the family farm as part of its offensive that captured vast swathes of territory in northern Iraq. Two weeks later, Paulis, who is a Christian, received a phone call from a man who said he was an Islamic State fighter.
Image: Ach K
“We are in your warehouse. Why are you not here working and taking care of your business?” the man asked in formal Arabic.

“Come back and we will guarantee your safety. But you must convert and pay $500.”

When Paulis refused, the man spelled out the penalty.

“We are taking your wheat,” he said.

“Just to let you know we are not stealing it because we gave you a choice.”

Other fleeing farmers recount similar stories, and point to a little-discussed element of the threat Islamic State poses to Iraq and the region.

The group now controls a large chunk of Iraq’s wheat supplies. The United Nations estimates land under IS control accounts for as much as 40 percent of Iraq’s annual production of wheat, one of the country’s most important food staples alongside barley and rice. The militants seem intent not just on grabbing more land but also on managing resources and governing in their self-proclaimed caliphate.

Wheat is one tool at their disposal. The group has begun using the grain to fill its pockets, to deprive opponents – especially members of the Christian and Yazidi minorities – of vital food supplies, and to win over fellow Sunni Muslims as it tightens its grip on captured territory. In Iraq’s northern breadbasket, much as it did in neighboring Syria, IS has kept state employees and wheat silo operators in place to help run its empire.

Such tactics are one reason IS poses a more complex threat than al Qaeda, the Islamist group from which it grew. For most of its existence, al Qaeda has focused on hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings. But Islamic State sees itself as both army and government.

“Wheat is a strategic good. They are doing as much as they can with it,” said Ali Bind Dian, head of a farmers’ union in Makhmur, a town near IS-held territory between Arbil and Mosul.

“Definitely they want to show off and pretend they are a government.”

Read the full article HERE.

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