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ISIL retaliates against locals by torching oil wells

ISIL retaliates against locals by torching oil wells thumbnail

Ayad leans against the black wall of a partially destroyed home, gripping an AK-47 in his hands.

He takes a deep breath and sprints across the road, between puddles of spilled oil, towards another house that he imagines is full of fighters. Ayad is followed by five fellow soldiers. Ahead of them, tongues of fire lick upwards from burning oil wells. The scene is apocalyptic.

Suddenly, a worker shouts towards Ayad and his group: “Get away from there, kids – it’s dangerous.”

Ayad is seven years old; his Kalashnikov is made out of cardboard, and every day he plays with a group of two dozen other children around the fiery oil wells of Qayyara, Iraq.

The firefighters and engineers working to extinguish the flames repeatedly warn the children to stop wandering around the fields, but they do not listen. With no school to go to, this area has become their favourite playground.

IN PICTURES: Knocking on Mosul’s door

The children’s clothes, faces and hands are covered in soot. They occasionally cough from the fumes. Some of the older children wear worn-out cotton masks in an effort to protect their lungs.

On some days, the black smoke is so thick that it appears to be pitch dark at midday.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) invaded Qayyara in June 2014. The predominantly Sunni town, located about 60km south of Mosul, is rich in oil, with more than 60 wells. Most of its 20,000 residents remained in Qayyara after the ISIL invasion, living under the group’s rule for two years.

But on August 25, Iraqi forces pushed into the town, and ISIL quickly retreated. Before fleeing, ISIL fighters blew up an oil well in the middle of a residential area, destroying 20 homes. Oil still boils amongst the debris. In total, ISIL fighters set 15 oil wells in this area on fire as they retreated.

“They [ISIL] set the wells on fire because they wanted to black the sky and prevent air strikes, but they also did it as a means of retaliation against the local population,” says Bashir Murat, who is in charge of the Nineveh oil fields. The lack of electricity has made his job more difficult, as he needs power to pump water and extinguish the flames.

With no school to go to, this area has become the children’s favourite playground¬†[Benedetta Argentieri/Al Jazeera]

“Once we start, it will take between 10 days to a month to stop it,” he says.

So far, Murat’s team has doused six of the 15 wells. Security is a primary concern, as ISIL might have placed explosive devices around the wells. “We have to be very careful when approaching,” Murat says.

This technique is not new: Saddam Hussein’s army torched hundreds of oil wells when retreating from Kuwait in 1991. It took nearly a year to completely extinguish the flames.

Meanwhile, the fumes are badly affecting local residents. The plumes of smoke are visible from kilometres away, with polluted air reaching the nearby towns of Haji Ali and Osaja, just across the Tigris. Further aggravating the situation, ISIL set alight a sulphur plant north of Qayyara on October 20. The toxic gas killed at least two people, and nearly 1,000 people had to be treated.

According to the Women and Health Alliance International, which has established field hospitals in the area, they are treating hundreds of people each day.

“We are worried about the situation,” mission leader Lana Simpraga tells Al Jazeera. Many children are suffering from bronchitis, or have developed rashes on their hands, feet or faces. Doctors and nurses are giving cortisone to the most serious cases, but due to a shortage of medicines, not everyone can be treated.

On some days, the black smoke is so thick that it appears to be pitch dark at midday [Benedetta Argentieri/Al Jazeera]

There are also shortages of food and water. The British NGO Oxfam is currently working on a project to restore the water plants in nearby villages, which were hit during the recent battle.

“I meet families every day who tell me their children are very sick because of the air pollution and lack of access to clean drinking water. The teams are delivering chlorine to two water treatment plants in the area and fuel to ensure the plants are able to continue working,” Amy Christian, an Iraq spokeswoman for Oxfam, tells Al Jazeera.

Access to the area remains very difficult, with ISIL carrying out daily attacks. Supply lines have been cut, with frontlines nearby to the north and south.

With the crisis still going on, the Iraqi army has tried to convince residents in the immediate area of the burning wells to relocate, but many refused, saying they would rather stay at home than go to a crowded camp.

One of Ayad’s favourite spots to hide while he plays war games with his friends is under a house collapsed by an air strike. A dead body lies under the debris.

“It’s ISIL,” he says, smiling.

9 Comments on "ISIL retaliates against locals by torching oil wells"

  1. makati1 on Mon, 31st Oct 2016 7:56 pm 

    Removing the steps between pumping and consuming. Speeding up the heating of our environment in so many ways.

  2. Truth Has A Liberal Bias on Mon, 31st Oct 2016 8:05 pm 

    Actually they retaliate against the enemy state by torching wells. They retaliate against locals by killing them.

  3. Anonymous on Mon, 31st Oct 2016 8:27 pm 

    The USLamic states Motto.

    No Un-torched oil well left behind.

  4. Sissyfuss on Mon, 31st Oct 2016 8:58 pm 

    All those fresh and hopeful faces standing at the edge of Hell, would that I had half their courage.

  5. GregT on Tue, 1st Nov 2016 12:36 am 

    From looking at the picture of them Sissyfuss, they probably know little else besides war. The US ‘led’ invasion, and subsequent destabilization of Iraq began 13 years ago. Most of those children look much younger than that, and I’m sure that every last one of them has had friends and/or family members brutally murdered.

    Iraq Death Toll Reaches 500,000 Since Start Of U.S.-Led Invasion, New Study Says

  6. joe on Tue, 1st Nov 2016 10:00 am 

    Ah, dont worry, those guys will be fine, Merkel says theres lots of room for them in Europe. With family planning and abortions for all, there’s always room for another jihadi as the white christians reduce. Ayad will be ok, just dont give up the a.k. 47 training youll need that one day for your Je Suis Charlie bid for fame.

  7. Sissyfuss on Tue, 1st Nov 2016 4:37 pm 

    Cold, Joe. Really cold.

  8. Apneaman on Tue, 1st Nov 2016 8:30 pm 

    joe, why are the white Christians numbers reducing? It must them evil Muslims forcing them good christian white boys to stay home on Sundays and watch 16 hours straight of NASCAR, NFL, Game of Thrones and The Walking dead. It was capitalism and all the technological wonders that killed Jesus. Or rather the people choosing their electronic dopamine drips over the lord. Even the ones who still attend service are fucking around on their smart phones while the pastor is giving the sermon – real polite. Maybe they just texting Jesus?

  9. joe on Wed, 2nd Nov 2016 9:12 am
    Im not pretending to be an expert. I just know whats in front of my eyes. Americans think it safe from the changes in the world, that somehow the ocean, or air power or some other thing will stop change, in a globalised world. Muslim immigrants to the west get rights they dont extend to people in their countries of origin, fine, its their country. We allow them into our countries and expect them change their ideas from domination to equality. We must be insane. The efforts by the EU to weaken the cultural cohesion of Europe began a century ago when the Church came under attack from socialists and the attchment to science, but that effort stalled when Americas point of differenciation with communism was that America was ‘God Fearin’ just like the muslims, to help each others hypocrisy to maintain dictatorship and defeat ‘godless commies’. That narritive has continued even into the cold war revivalism of today. The West is burning both ends of the candle now, at one point using false flags and fear to distract and control as well both Russia and Islam, but that will fail. Already Turkey sees through the West, but can do nothing about it, so instead they will flood Europe by issuing visas and passports to every migrant it finds, playing the long generational game, and the liberal white drugged up ex – christian European/American will go extinct and the more savvy people will dominate and women will go back to the kitchens and children will be seen and unheard and society will continue as it always was before. Brutal and warlike, as we are. Our western experiment with science and law to control cities (200 years ago cities rarely had police or r and d institutes) is being utterly rejectec by Islam who see the individual as the source of morality and justice, Christians (true ones) differ in that they see forgiveness as the justice of individuals and that God will punish sinners in hell. Muslims think they are the instrument of Gods justice and that life has rewards from God for doing such justice (isis believes exactly this). So the clash of Cultures/Civilisations is almost inevitable. Greed has tempted people away from the Church because they think they dont need it, and that was true, until Merkel let in an additional 1mln muslims into Europe who in 10 years could be 3mnln.

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