FALLUJAH — Amidst the huge and growing death toll, it has been easy to forget that animals, in their own way, are finding it hard to survive in Iraq.
“Like human beings, animals find it very hard to stay alive now,” Dr. Sammy Hashim, a veterinarian who lives and works west of Baghdad, between Fallujah and the capital city, told IPS. “Naturally, no one cares for the poor animals when nobody seems to care even for human beings under the occupation.”
Dr. Hashim said animals cannot get basic needs. “Good drinking water, good feed, vet care and medicines are all unavailable in Iraq since the U.S. occupation of the country began in the spring of 2003. When we complain to the government, they laugh at us, saying humans are first priority.”
Farmers seem to have lost hope for the future of their animals. “We treat animals like our own children,” Hamdiya Alwan, 50-year-old widow of a farmer in the Abu Ghraib area of western Baghdad told IPS. “We were brought up to treat animals in the best way possible, but now it is getting very hard.
“It costs a lot to keep a cow or a few sheep with prices of feed so high, and agriculture in such bad shape. Of the six cows and 30 heads of sheep that we had before my husband was killed in 2004, I only have one cow and four heads of sheep now.”
Chicken farm owners have their own agonies. “It was good business, and a real support during the times of the sanctions (the UN-imposed economic sanctions on Iraq 1990-2003),” Hajji Jassim from the Saqlawiya area near Fallujah, 60 km west of Baghdad told IPS. “The support (subsidies) we got from our legitimate (previous) government was reflected in the prices of chicken meat.”
Jassim added, “Now it is impossible to work, with no electricity and no support whatsoever. This situation simply finished our business, and the government seems not to care at all for such a great loss.”
Some political leaders see this too, as a part of a plan to ruin the Iraqi economy. “The U.S. occupation has destroyed everything in Iraq, and this is part of the comprehensive plan of destruction,” a member of the al-Anbar provincial council in Fallujah, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the environment of fear, told IPS.
“The Americans could have continued the support to farmers given by the former regime to keep our farming industry running, but they deliberately stopped all kinds of support in order to destroy it, just like they did with our army and all the good things we had.”
“Killing agriculture and animal breeding is a great loss to the economy of Iraq,” Youssif Hussein, lecturer in economics at al-Anbar University in Ramadi, 105 km west of Baghdad, told IPS. “Considering the fact that Iraqi oil will go into the pockets of American corporations, Iraqis should think seriously of depending on farming and animal breeding for a long time to come.”
In her book ‘The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism’, Canadian journalist and author Naomi Klein wrote that the U.S. followed up its ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign with “shock therapy — mass privatisation, complete free trade, a 15 percent flat tax, a dramatically downsized government.” This policy has taken its toll on farms and the livestock business.
Signalling worse to come, the ministry of water resources announced May 22 that the country is suffering from water shortages that could lead to widespread drought.
“The shortage of rain, which last winter was 30 percent of what it was in previous years, has led to an obvious impact on water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates and their tributaries,” the ministry said.
Iraq’s total water store in reservoirs and lakes is currently 22.07 billion cubic metres, down from the pervious year by 9.19 billion cubic metres, it said. And like humans, animals will suffer as a consequence.
(*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).