Conflict and drought ravage prized date palms across Iraq
BASRA, Iraq — Sweet Iraqi dates adorn tables in homes across the country, but the fruit tree and national symbol has come under threat from conflict and crippling drought.
Shopping in the southern city of Basra, Leila only buys “the queen of dates” — those produced in the surrounding province.
Her husband Mehdi, 68, said the couple have the sweet fruit “every lunchtime, and also for snacks between meals”.
The pair devours a kilogram over two to three days, at a cost of 5,000 dinars, or just over $4.
But high unemployment and price hikes mean not all families can afford such luxury.
For trader Salem Hussein, who has been selling dates for 40 years, the decline set in long ago — before the drought and even this century’s series of deadly conflicts.
Imports fill the gap
The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war decimated the groves of date palms on Iraqi soil, he said, dressed in a sky blue robe and white skullcap.
The majority of trees lining the Shatt al-Arab waterway, marking the border between the two countries, were incinerated by shells and rockets.
Hussein once dreamed of expanding palm groves and introducing even more varieties than the 450 already boasted by Iraq, which used to be known as the land of 30 million palm trees.
The country’s dates were long exported “to the United States, Japan and India”, recalled the 66-year-old.
“We thought of developing
Farmer Raed al-Jubayli checks dates at his palm tree nursery in Basra, Iraq, on Aug 31. Haidar