IRAQI KURDISTAN: ExxonMobil puts operations on hiatus because of ISIS, but Kurdish villagers cannot access land

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CPTnet
2 October 2014
IRAQI
KURDISTAN: ExxonMobil puts operations on hiatus because of ISIS, but Kurdish
villagers cannot access land

On
8 and 12 September, the CPT Iraqi Kurdistan team visited its partners in
villages affected by the ExxonMobil operations.  The huge Exxon10562648_738933592856548_673082790745076661_ocamp near Hajji Awa, from which the
company conducted the oil explorations in Gullan village and Shawre valley sits
almost completely empty.  The
government sent many of the guards to fight the ISIS on the front line.  ExxonMobil has stalled its operations in
Iraqi Kurdistan because of the advance of ISIS forces and the war.  The multinational corporation seems not
to feel protected enough by the U.S. air strikes, even though the U.S. claims
they are occurring for the “protection of U.S. interests and personnel.” 

Kak
Muhsin, mukhtar (leader) of Sartka, who’s family lost seventy dunams of well
fertile land to Exxon’s first oil rig in Kurdistan told CPTers, “Since the
beginning of August the drilling stopped and the staff left.  I continue to receive my salary for
doing nothing.”  He refers to his
new job as a standby evacuation bus driver in case Exxon drilling would release
a poisonous  gas.  He did not have many options for work
after his grape and
fruit farming livelihood vanished over a year ago.
  

Instead
of vast orchards and vines overflowing with ripe grapes nestled in a beautiful
valley, he looks down from his house on stretches of concrete platforms around
a white-red drilling platform rising high to the skies, rows of plastic cabins
and evacuation buses, besieged by seven watchtowers, all quiet at the moment.

Kak
Muhsin speaks passionately of the compensations that the Kurdistan Regional
Government eventually paid to the farmers in April: “We received money but we
don’t understand the process and the amounts.  I received 14 million dinars (approx. $11,500USD) but my
neighbor only 2 million, and some people only one.  The final price makes no sense and no one explained anything
to us.  We were all summoned to the
mayor’s office Salahaddin (Pirmam), and handed stacks of money by the mayor in
the presence of an Exxon representative in exchange for a handshake in front of
the camera.” 

Kak
Muhsin’s son adds with fervor in his voice, “At first, I refused to take the
money, because I asked to see a contract and asked for an explanation after the
mayor told me to sign a receipt.  However, later my friends told me to take the money because
probably someone would most likely keep the money and I would never see any
more again.” 

The
unclear compensations sowed grains of conflict among the farmers in addition to
the discontent they felt.  In an
earlier June visit to Hajji Ahmed, the landowners told the members of the team
that they felt betrayed.  They also
raised suspicions about the different amounts of money the families received.  And some have received nothing, even
though their fields lay next to others that were compensated. 

ExxonMobil
is gone for now.  So is the trust
among the community members as well as the freedom to enter the land, including
the parts that keep on producing fruit and which need cultivation.  Exxon will most likely return one day, unlike
the land and the farmers’ way of life. 

One
of the long-term CPT IK team members introduced to Kak Muhsin two new teammates,
who came to Sartka for the first time.  In an attempt to build bridges of understanding, he presented
them as two “amriki” (Americans) who also fight against oil corporations in
their country, speaking out and protesting against the destruction of their
region.  Kak Muhsin laughed and
said, “We may be similar, but the difference is that in the U.S. the government
uses water canons against the protesters.  Here they use real bullets.”     

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