Exxon Mobil 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 Exxon Mobil operations.  The huge Exxon camp 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 hisgrape 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.”