23 March 2015
IRAQI KURDISTAN: Exxon Mobil pollutes Kurdish villages, denies villagers access
On 9 March, a Kurdish farmer, Kak Mirro,
committed an act of civil disobedience by burning grapevines in his own fields.
The day before, he had phoned the CPT Iraq team, “Please come to Haji Ahmed. Tomorrow at 10:00
am the oil will begin to flow.” After some discussion, three of our team
decided to drive the two hours to the tiny village, picking up our lawyer
friend, Latif, along the way.
The day was bright with a spring chill in the
wind. We met Kak Mirro at his house and then drove over the tortuous farmers’
roads up to a spot overlooking the oilrig built throughout the last year.
Kak Mirro told us the oil company, with the backing of the government, has
ordered them to stay away from these fields—at a time when they need extra
rule reminiscent of the period two years ago when
the exploration had begun and the company destroyed crops and vineyards.
|Kak Mirro with excess gas fire burning in background.
Today, however, he was defying the oil company
and the Kurdish government who was supporting it by bringing a group of
foreigners to witness this new event in the evolution of their life. We could
tell he was nervous—energetically watching the vehicles around the rig to see
if any were coming our way. He thought we could make tea to make it seem as
though we were only having a picnic. However, we had forgotten the kettle, tea
and sugar. But he lit a fire anyway, “cleaning up the pruned grapevines in
preparation for spring,” he said.
We sat and talked in the sunshine for three
hours, sometimes walking around to admire the nearby vineyards and flowering
almond trees. But the oil did not flow. We did not see the billowing black
smoke and loud noise that was promised. He apologized for bringing us out all
the way from Sulaimani for nothing. He spoke of his gratitude for our concern
and compassion in being willing to sit with him on the hillside when many
others would not.
Since February 2015 Exxon Mobil has been
releasing large amounts of excess gas from the drilling rig near the Kurdish
villages of Sartka, Haji Ahmed, Allawa and Sorabani.
As we ate a Kurdish meal prepared by his wife at
their house, we spoke of plans for the future: trying to speak with different
parliamentarians, collecting further data to support claims for compensation
for land taken away, of petitions and protests.
Kak Mirro called us again, the next day.
The loud noise, black smoke and bright flame had come. The burning of the gas
that is a precursor to the oil brought a petroleum reek that spread throughout
the fields and village. Can anything compensate for that?
On 17 March Dr. Sherko Jawdat, the head of the
Natural Resources Committee of the Kurdistan parliament, visited the area but
was denied access to the drilling area. Kak Miro told the team that on 19
March he received a threatening phone call from a Zervani guard (security for
the oil field provided by the Kurdish Regional Government) telling him to stop bringing
parliamentarians to the site.