The History of Poisoning the Well

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tags: Middle East, military history, ancient history

It was a sultry-hot Sunday in August 2014 when ISIS came to the Iraqi town of Snune. Roaring around the flanks of Sinjar Mountain in the country’s far northwest, the black-clad fighters quickly seized whatever men, women and children hadn’t been able make their escape after Iraqi and nearby Kurdish forces collapsed when faced with the ISIS surge. The men and old women were mostly murdered and dumped in mass graves; the others were sold into slavery.

Then, having eviscerated the area’s human life, the jihadists got to work on the natural landscape. First, they carted away anything of value, including many miles of electricity line and tens of thousands of livestock. Soon after, they torched much of what couldn’t be filched. The shattered villages are still littered with the blackened stumps of once-sprawling olive groves. Finally, as a kind of primeval coup-de-grace, they poisoned or sabotaged practically every well they could get their blood-stained hands on before slowly falling back as the anti-extremist coalition regrouped.

In Sheikh Romi village, just to Snune’s east, ISIS choked at least one well with oil, and jammed up several more with ragged metal debris. In the villages to the south of the mountain, the group clogged scores of wells with rocks and rubble. In doing so, it reduced a lush agricultural district to a parched wasteland of swirling dust and bare fields. By the time the extremists had had their fill of looting and destruction, there was scarcely a functioning water outlet left. The message, residents say, was unequivocal: “Even if you survive us, you won’t survive the lifeless environment you’ll return to.”


Read entire article at Smithsonian.com

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