Exxon Mobil pollutes Kurdish villages

... and denies villagers access to land

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 oil rig 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 attention— a 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.