As the season for wheat planting in Iraq wound down early last month, farmers in areas under the control of Sunni militant group Islamic State grew worried.
More than two dozen farmers told Reuters they had not planted the normal amount of seed, because they could not access their land, did not have the proper fertilisers or adequate fuel, or because they had no guarantees that Islamic State would buy their crop as Baghdad normally does.
Farmers, and Iraqi and United Nations' officials, now fear a drastically reduced crop this spring. That could leave hundreds of thousands of Iraqis hungry. But another big loser would be Islamic State, which controls territory that normally produces as much as 40 percent of Iraq's wheat crop.
The breakaway al Qaeda group, which declared an Islamic caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq last summer, has killed thousands and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes. Islamic State militants had hoped to use wheat to show it can govern better than the Arab governments it condemns as infidels. They have published pamphlets with photos of golden fields and fighters distributing food.
A bad crop might not cost the group control of territory, but it would seriously dent its campaign to be seen as an alternative government, and hurt its credibility among some fellow Sunnis.
Iraqi farmers have long complained of Baghdad's neglect and mismanagement of agriculture. International sanctions and the U.S. invasion further hurt the sector. But many farmers say this planting season marks an all-time low.
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