FALLUJAH, May 12 (IPS) – Sharp increases in food prices have generated a new wave of anti-occupation and anti-U.S. sentiment in Fallujah.
“This is a country that was damned by the Americans the moment they stepped on our soil,” Burhan Jassim, a farmer from Sichir village just outside Fallujah told IPS. “This is Iraqi land that has always been blessed by Allah with the best production in quality and quantity, but now see how it has been turned into a wasteland.”
Fallujah faces this new crisis after much of the city was destroyed by U.S. military operations in 2004.
The area around Fallujah city, which lies 70 km west of Baghdad, has traditionally been one of the most agriculturally productive in Iraq. Farmers planted tomatoes and cucumbers north of Fallujah, others grew potatoes south of the city near Amiriya. Both areas had plenty of date palm trees and small fruit plantations. Now production is down to a fraction of what it was.
Farmers have been struggling with changing times. “We changed our motors from electric to diesel oil to avoid electricity failures during the UN sanctions (during the 1990s),” Raad Sammy, an agriculture engineer who has a small farm in Saqlawiya on the outskirts of Fallujah told IPS. “We used to have a minimum of 12 hours electricity per day under the programmed cut, but there is practically no electricity now. And now we also have to face lack of fuel for our pumps, and the incredible increase of fuel prices on the black market.”
The price of agricultural products has skyrocketed. “The average price for one kilogram of tomatoes is approximately one dollar,” Yasseen Kamil, a grocer in Fallujah told IPS. “This price is when there is no crisis such as Americans blocking the entrance into the city. It is naturally doubled in winter when we have to import everything from Syria and Jordan.”
Fallujah residents say the price of food now exceeds their income. The average income for government employees is 170 dollars a month, and no more than 100 dollars for labourers and salesmen.
Residents say unemployment in the city is well above 50 percent. Under these circumstances, a food crisis has hit people harder than it might elsewhere.
“The social effects of the situation are enormous,” Ahmed Munqith from the city told IPS. “We believe that people are carrying out illegitimate acts in order to obtain their daily life necessities. The food crisis has led to vast corruption, and raised crime rates to peak point.”
As with any difficulty now, many Iraqis believe that the occupation forces want it this way.
“It is obvious that the prices are up and life is difficult in this city and all of Iraq because it has been so planned,” Sheikh Ala’in, a cleric in Fallujah told IPS. “Occupation planners designed this poverty in order to make Iraqis work for them as policemen and spies. Iraq is floating on a lake of oil, but there is no gas to run water pumps. What an irony.”
Residents say they are told of a world food crisis that may be affecting them. But their crisis arises mainly from local factors like shortage of water, fuel and electricity.
Whatever the reason, residents simply want relief. “We just want our lives back,” said a college student who gave her name only as Nada. “We want to eat, buy clothes, get proper education and breathe pure air. No thanks to Americans for their effort to bring us democracy that killed half of us by their bombs and is now apparently killing the other half by starvation. Can you pass this message to the American people for us?”
According to the UN, at least four million people in Iraq do not have enough food, while approximately 40 percent of the 27.5 million population do not have access to clean drinking water. At least 30 percent do not have access to proper health services.
(*Ali, our correspondent in Baghdad, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who has reported extensively from Iraq and the Middle East).