Understanding conflict in the Middle East has never been simple, but many aspects of the current battle raging between Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and forces seeking to arrest and reverse the brutal group’s gains bring the region’s complexities to new heights. To a greater extent than in many earlier episodes of conflict in the region, the supply, cost and disposition of wheat are playing an important role in the current crisis.
Considerable attention has been given to ISIL’s dependence for funding on energy resources in captured lands and $2 billion of cash, much of it looted from the conquered city of Mosul. Wheat also has played a role. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said the conflict “has seriously impacted cereal harvests in key production areas.” Specifically, the F.A.O. pointed to the Nineveh and Salah al-Din areas, fertile land that accounts for a third of Iraq’s wheat production. News reports indicated ISIL has confiscated grain stored in Iraq government silos, has milled it and then has sold the flour.
To date, the supply disruption in the rest of Iraq has been countered by increased wheat imports and has not yet caused bread shortages or price hikes. As the United States increases its involvement in the conflict, helping avoid unrest in Iraq related to food prices seems critical in preventing an already fragile and frightening situation from spiraling still further out of control.