The Diyala province police command announced Monday (June 3rd) it has arrested two "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) elements who were threatening to set farms on fire if their owners did not pay protection money.
"Police forces, with the support of intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Service agencies, have arrested two ISIS elements in a quality operation in the agricultural town of Qarah Taba," command spokesman Col. Ghalib al-Attiya told Diyaruna.
The detainees are accused of extorting farmers who own wheat fields in the town, "threatening to set their farmlands on fire if they did not pay large sums in protection money", he said.
"The suspects have admitted to working as chief financiers for ISIS, collecting money through bargaining and extortion in order to support sleeper cells and cells whose members are hiding in remote areas," he said.
The arrest was part of a series of measures to hunt down militants after fires broke out in large swathes of farmland in several Iraqi provinces, said al-Attiya.
The fires consumed large areas planted with wheat and barley close to the harvest season, and were most severe in farming villages in Ninawa, Kirkuk, Salaheddine and Diyala provinces.
According to the Iraqi Civil Defence, 155 fires broke out in farmlands across Iraq between May 8th and 28th.
A total area of 7,814 dunams was affected by the fires, it said in a statement.
Farmers co-operate with police
In Diyala province, civil defence teams were able to extinguish four fires that broke out in orchards in the town of Khan Bani Saad, al-Attiya said.
The fires ravaged "hundreds of dunams of farmlands" in the Diyala province towns of Khanaqin, Buhriz and Qarah Taba, he said.
The Diyala Command is working with farmland owners to protect their property from arson, he said. "We have patrols touring agricultural fields and have set up joint guard posts with local residents, especially in remote villages."
The forces manning checkpoints have been instructed to facilitate the transfer of agricultural shipments from farmers to crop collection centres and to secure warehouses so that the current harvest season can be successful, said al-Attiya.
He noted that some of the fires were not caused by arson, but were the result of "farmers’ negligence and failure to follow safety instructions when burning harvested lands to prepare them for the next farming season".