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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Water Tops Priorities for Kirkuk’s Rural Majority

By Spc. Mike Alberts
3rd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs

HAWIJAH, Iraq, May 7, 2007 — Subsistence farmers are the dominant majority in southern portions of the Kirkuk Province. Most of those rely on water from the lower Zaab River to irrigate crops. Inadequate rainfall and water levels in the Zaab’s primary water source, the northern Dokan Dam, are creating concerns among that rural majority. Soldiers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team’s 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” are helping ensure that those concerns get addressed.

Prominent civic and religious leaders from the Kirkuk Province, Department of State and Wolfhound representatives participated in an agricultural round-table meeting and discussion at Forward Operating Base McHenry, Hawijah, Iraq, April 25.

“Northern Iraq has experienced drought conditions dating back to last fall,” explained John M. Schnittker, agricultural advisor, Kirkuk Provincial Reconstruction Team, U.S. Department of State. “The province has received only 60 percent of average rainfall. Historically, flows for this time of the year have never been this low,” he continued. “There is great concern about the adequacy of water for crops, livestock and also for the inhabitants of the many villages of the Kirkuk Province.”

“The meeting and discussion today was to listen to local concerns in order to address the shortage of water and the need for additional releases of water from Dokan Lake which is at 43 percent capacity, well below where it was a year ago,” said Schnittker.

Agriculture is the primary sustainable resource in the southern Kirkuk Province. It is the major industry in the area and supports the majority of the population by providing food and jobs according to Capt. Jeffrey Fuller, fire support officer, 2-27.

“The meeting today was critical,” said Fuller. “It gave a lot more visibility to the issues faced by farmers in the region and gave them a forum to organize and put together arguments that we can now use to help them lobby for more water to be released from the dam.

“In addition, most of these farmers are Sunni Arabs. Their leaders aren’t really participating in Kirkuk’s political process right now. Having them get together in this environment with a Department of State representative will help ensure that their needs get pushed higher.”

Fuller also explained that the meeting helped his unit identify how they can best help the local farming community immediately which includes, among other things, helping repair and maintain the region’s 25 year-old aqueduct system.

In addition to water, meeting invitees took advantage of Department of State expertise to discuss crop and planting rotations, soil characteristics, seed quality, business opportunities, controlling agricultural imports, and short term and long term infrastructure improvements. Mostly, though, it was farmers talking farming to someone who understood their issues, and could empathize with their plight.

“I’m an agricultural economist from Manhattan, Kansas. My family still farms wheat in Kansas,” emphasized Schnittker. “I think they are mostly pleased that someone is here that speaks their language, the language [of agriculture],” he said. “I’d definitely characterize this meeting as very good,” he continued.

“We heard a lot about their agriculture. We reinforced their need to address their concerns to their political representatives. Also, I now have information that I can use on their behalf at the brigade, division and provincial levels to try and make sure their needs are met.”

Photo: John M. Schnittker, agricultural advisor, Kirkuk Provincial Reconstruction Team, U.S. Department of State, hosts an agricultural round table meeting and discussion with coalition forces and prominent local civic and religious leaders from Kirkuk Province at Forward Operating Base McHenry, Hawijah, Iraq, April 25, 2007.

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