Hadi H. Jaafar / Lara Sujud / Eckart Woertz

Scorched Earth Tactics of the “Islamic State” After its Loss of Territory: Intentional Burning of Farmland in Iraq and Syria

Regional Environmental Change | 2022

  • Abstract

    Recent literature shows increasing interest in analyzing causes of what was referred to as “unusual” fires in Iraq and Syria in 2019. Here, we examine the causes of uncontrolled and irregular fires within farmlands in parts of the two countries in 2019–2020 and quantify their extent spatiotemporally using a combination of medium and coarse-resolution satellite imagery, land cover, precipitation, temperature data, and multiple sources of armed violence data. Our analysis reveals the extent of the deliberate arson of farmland in Iraq and Northeast Syria in 2019–2020. In comparison, only a few fires of farmland were observed in 2007–2013 in Iraq, and Al-Hassakeh, Syria, that became a stronghold of the Islamic State (IS) in 2013. In 2014–2017, we find evidence for increased farmland fires in various locations that closely tracked the military withdrawal of IS between 2015/2016 and 2017 when it lost most of its territory. We find that although the burned area in wheat-producing regions of Iraq (Ninewa and Kirkuk) and Syria have recently increased, the increase in the percentage burned area of agricultural lands in Iraq’s Ninewa and Kirkuk was not unprecedented. MODIS overestimates burned areas when in low fire activity while it underestimates it when fire activity is high, compared to a Landsat–Sentinel-2 combination. A significant positive relationship (r = 0.83) exists between the number of IS-related incidents and the percent burned agricultural area during 2019, which raises questions about the future strategy of the IS terror group and its use and targeting of the water-food complex.



    Regional Environmental Change





    Hadi H. Jaafar

    Hadi H. Jaafar

    Lara Sujud

    Lara Sujud

    الجامعة الأمريكية في بيروت


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