FILE - A farmer harvests wheat in a field in Jdeidet Artouz, a suburb southwest of Damascus, Syria, June 19, 2017.
FILE - A farmer harvests wheat in a field in Jdeidet Artouz, a suburb southwest of Damascus, Syria, June 19, 2017.

The Islamic State in its al-Naba newspaper claimed responsibility for setting fire to hundreds of acres of agricultural land across Iraq and Syria, encouraging its followers to continue the sabotage of "apostate" crops during the harvest season.  
In an article titled "Roll Up Your Sleeves and Begin the Harvest — May Allah Bless What You Reap," the group said the arson was in retaliation for what it claims Shiite and "apostate" forces did to Sunni homes and farmlands in areas formerly under IS. 
"It looks like it will be a hot summer, burning the pockets and hearts of rejecters and apostates who have been burning Muslims and their homes over the past years," the group said in its 183rd issue of al-Naba online newspaper that was published Thursday.  
The term "rejecter" or "al-Rawafidh" is historically applied by some extremist Sunnis to refer to Shiites, while "apostate" or "al-Murtad" is used against those Muslims who are accused of heresy.  
In the article, IS said it was behind the farmland scorches in predominantly Kurdish territories across Kirkuk, Diyala, Ninawa and Salahuddin provinces in Iraq and al-Hasakah province in Syria. It claimed the fire was "just the beginning" and that it had burned hundreds of acres of wheat and barley fields.  

FILE - A farmer inspects his wheat stocks in Basheeqa, Iraq, Feb. 8, 2017.

"And the season of harvest is still long. We tell the soldiers of the caliphate, you have before you millions of acres of land planted with wheat and barley, belonging to apostates, and you have before you their plantations, fields and homes, as well as their economic foundation. So roll up your sleeves and begin the harvest. May Allah bless what you reap," IS told its followers. 
Farmers across northern Iraq and northeastern Syria began protesting as their crops were hit by mysterious fires in recent weeks.  
Religious taxation 
In Iraq, Kurdish peshmerga forces Wednesday told VOA that IS militants had asked villagers in disputed territories between the Iraqi government and Kurdistan Region to pay a religious tax known as zakat or find their crops destroyed.  
Kurdish officials warned the continuation of the fires could ignite violent clashes between Kurdish and Arab residents in the area, especially as the Kurdish farmers say only their fields are targeted while Arab farmers' fields are being spared. 

WATCH: Militants Target Kurdish Farmers in Disputed Territories in Iraq

According to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture, about 500 hectares (1,185 acres) of farmland have been scorched in recent weeks across the disputed territories as well as al-Najaf and al-Diwaniyah governorates. 
In Syria, the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported that fire outbreaks in northeastern Syria have blazed down thousands of hectares of land. Less intense fires were also reported in the outskirts of Damascus and Hama.