Iraq accuses ISIS of setting fire to hundreds of acres of farmland

Ministry of Commerce condemns attacks on the country's farming infrastructure

An Iraqi man stands on a dry field in an area affected by drought in the Mishkhab region, central Iraq, some twenty-five kilometres from Najaf, on July 2, 2018. Facing an unusually harsh drought, the agriculture ministry last month suspended the cultivation of rice, corn and other cereals, which need large quantities of water. The decision has slashed the income of amber rice farmers, who usually earn between 300,000 and 500,000 dinars ($240 to $400) a year per dunum (quarter-acre, 0.1 hectares) of land. / AFP / Haidar HAMDANI
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Iraq’s Ministry of Commerce accused ISIS on Sunday of destroying hundreds of agricultural fields across the country, raising fears that the extremist group is stepping up activity.

The group allegedly set fire to 500 acres of wheat and barley farms in the eastern province of Diyala on Saturday and destroyed further further fields in the northern province of Nineveh.

Local media reported that the burning of fields was part of an extortion racket in which ISIS members demanded money from farmers.

"We call for the urgent protection and security of civilians and their land," the trade and interior ministries said in a statement.

The ministries called on security forces in Nineveh to intervene to prevent such attacks from occurring in the near future.

Since its rise in 2014, ISIS has sabotaged hundreds of wells, destroyed orchards, and stolen machinery and livestock, Human Rights Watch reported last December.

An Iraqi member of parliament Raad Dahlaki urged the government to compensate farmers for their loss.

Earlier this month, ISIS fighters carried out several attacks in western Mosul, according to security officials. The insurgents burned down several houses in the village of Ibrahimia, west of Mosul, that caused dozens of families to flee.

An unidentified group of armed men shot dead five members of an Iraqi family in an attack on their house in southern Mosul on 5 May.

Security officials said that ISIS fighters were involved in the attack on a house of a village community supervisor in the Hammam Al Alil area, according to a statement by the interior ministry.

Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, ISIS fighters are active in that area.

In a separate incident, gunmen attacked a grain silo in the northern Iraqi town of Shirqat last Thursday, killing a guard and setting fire to a vehicle.

It comes as Iraqi forces launched a new security operation on Saturday to hunt down remaining ISIS sleeper cells near the Syrian border.

Iraqi forces recently cleared 10 villages in the district of Al Baaj, west of Mosul, Major General Najem Al Jubouri said.

The official said that military operations will continue until areas in the Nineveh province and the Syrian border are secure.

At its height in 2014 and 2015, ISIS ruled over a self-proclaimed "caliphate" that spanned one third of Iraq and Syria and attracted followers from all over the world.

Although Iraq declared victory over the terrorists in December 2017, the group continues to carry out attacks across the country.

An unknown number of ISIS supporters remain at large in both Syria and Iraq.