Baghdad, Iraq – Almost two months after the Islamic State group seized Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul, tension seems to have calmed in the capital. But along the trade supply routes linking Turkey to Baghdad, which are now under the group’s complete control, a new threat has emerged: a cut-off from food supplies.
Thousands of Baghdad residents have begun stock-piling food to protect themselves from a possible food crisis. “My entire shop was sold out the first days after [the Islamic State] took Mosul,” said Amir Sameer, 32, who is responsible for filling the shelves at Al-Warda supermarket in Karada, an upperclass neighbourhood of Baghdad.
“People believed that [the Islamic State group] would take over the city. Everybody wanted to buy dry food beforehand,” Sameer told Al Jazeera.
The road under Islamic State control follows the bank of the Tigris river, and enters Iraq at the city of Dahuk. Only a few kilometres to the south lies the recently-seized city of Mosul. After crossing through Mosul, the road continues past the cities of Baiji and Samara, before finally reaching Baghdad.
As heavy fighting continues over control of Mosul and in Samara, many import goods can’t make it to the capital. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that Baghdad depends on imports for almost 80 percent of its food supply, and the majority comes from Turkey.
“Food prices have increased by at least 30 percent and the price of gas is fifty times higher,” Hilal Mohammed, deputy head of mission at the FAO, told Al Jazeera.
programme of food distribution already in four governates. It is dangerous for us to work and almost impossible due to the lack of gas.”]
“The latter has far-reaching consequences. People are no longer able to harvest their land and transportation of goods is severely pressured. We also had to halt our [FAO] programme of food distribution already in four governates. It is dangerous for us to work and almost impossible due to the lack of gas,” Mohammed said.
He estimated that about 10 million Iraqis might be impacted. “In the next days we will witness more shortages and we will get a better idea of how severe this threat is,” he added.
The route that connects Turkey with Iraq provides the country with more than $9bn annually, according to economic analyst and vice-chairman of the Iraqi Economists Association, Basem J. Anton. “Turkey has seen its exports deminish [by] at least 30 percent,” Anton told Al Jazeera.
The Islamic State group’s control over the road has led to an increase in the cost of products in Iraq. This is despite the Ministry of Interior’s efforts to form a task force to monitor the prices.
“The government is controlling this strictly. Vendors are not supposed to sell at higher prices. If they do, they will be fined severely for that,” Baqar Jafar Jawad, the director of Baghdad’s Chamber of Commerce, said.
But these measures are at the expense of the city’s retailers. “We sell at the same price, but we buy at 125 percent of the usual price,” said Hassan Mohammed, who owns a small shop on Baghdad’s main shopping street.
His shelves are filled with Turkish import goods, but the stocks are almost exhausted. “I used to buy this one for 2,000 Iraqi dinar ($2),” he said, while passing a can of Turkish tomatoes across the counter in front of him. “Today, I pay at least 2,400 Iraqi dinar ($2.50) for it.”
He told Al Jazeera that his income over the last few weeks has gone down by at least 10 percent. “And it doesn’t look like that will get any better soon,” he said, pointing to frozen chicken and beef. “Previously, I bought even the meat in Turkey, but nowadays that is impossible. Iraqis prefer Turkish products because [they’re] cheaper and of better quality.”
Meanwhile, Turkish truck drivers are increasingly worried about travelling through Iraq. Aydin Camci has been driving the Turkey-Iraq trade route for two years. “Our company still exports to Iraq, but only in the north,” Camci said.
He told Al Jazeera that he is now afraid to enter Baghdad: “Since prime minister Nouri al-Maliki accused Turkey of collaborating and supporting Islamic State fighters in the north, the Turks are more cautious.”
Islamic State fighters released 32 Turkish lorry drivers, who had been held hostage for more than three weeks, in early July. But this hasn’t assuaged fears. “In the south, the people are turning against us. In the north, it is [Islamic State] who’s threatening us,” Camci said.
A spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO) told Al Jazeera that the crisis could have an affect on the entire country. “There are alternative roads to reach Baghdad – for example, through Jordan – but these alternatives can’t provide [for] the [Iraq’s] entire needs,” said Hussain al-Biytar.
“A couple of days ago one of our drivers got hijacked,” he said. “They [fighters] didn’t harm the driver, but they took the car with the [UN] inscription, as well as the medicines stock that was on board.”