Tomato Farmers v. Iraq’s Biggest Airport

However the airport, which would be Iraq’s biggest, will also require the land that many of the farms of the desert currently occupy and authorities told the farmers they would need to leave their land by Oct. 1 this year. There were signs put up urging the farmers to respect this date. And if they did not, authorities said that bulldozers would come in and simply start working.

However the farmers here have organised many protests and after the most recent ones, during which dozens of angry farmers confronted local officials, blocked roads and interrupted ceremonies, it was decided to delay the evacuation of the farmlands until Jan. 1 next year. That would be the final date, officials warned.

Ammar says he is deeply disappointed by the fact that local authorities are willing to just ignore the desert farmers. He says he and his fellow agrarians have supported the local economy with their work – for example, the area produces an estimated 2,000 tons of tomatoes per day – and provided goods that would otherwise have had to be imported. The farms here must rely on groundwater and they have banded together to build wells without any support from the local government.

In fact, Ammar says, they’ve been waiting for local authorities to do something for them, anything in fact - like build roads that would facilitate the transport of vegetables or build schools so their children could get an education. Now Ammar says he doesn’t believe the government’s messages about how the Iraqi agricultural sector should be supported.

“When nobody did anything we just thought we would deal with things ourselves and accept the realities of our situation,” Ammar explains. “But this is worse. They won’t even leave us alone and they’re planning to displace us and take away our children’s future.”

The farmers have been demanding some sort of compensation for their properties but this has led to further friction. There are more than 200 farmers demanding compensation but only 80 had the right credentials for any official compensation. Authorities say the others are camping out on state owned land so they don’t have any right to compensation – nor are they owed anything for the wells they helped dig on the land.

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