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Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) - Iraq

Iraq is one of the most heavily mined nations in the world. As of early 2003, it was estimated that there were over 10 million mines already in the ground-8 million antipersonnel (AP) and 2 million antitank (AT), with Iraq both a producer and exporter of AP mines.

Iraq is considered one of the most mine-infested nations in the world. Iraq emplaced minefields for three main purposes:

  • To protect its borders during the lengthy war with Iran (1980 through 1988).
  • To ward off invasion during the Gulf War (1990 through 1991).
  • To subdue the Kurdish population in northern Iraq.

Northern Iraq's mine and unexploded ordnance (UXO) problems date back to the end of World War II, but mines were not heavily used in this region until the 1960s and 1970s. During this period, the central Iraqi government attempted to subdue Kurdish demands for autonomy through the use of mine warfare.

Starting with the Iran-Iraq War onwards, the Iraqi military has been involved in three major wars. From 1983 to 1988, the Iran/Iraq War was characterized by large-scale attacks against entrenched, heavily fortified, and mined positions on both sides of the border. Both countries used mines extensively along their common border. Additionally, Iraq used mines extensively in the northern regions of the country to curtail internal dissident activities.

During this period, Iraqi soldiers gained extensive knowledge and experience in the use of booby traps and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

During the Gulf War, coalition forces encountered significant numbers of booby traps and IEDs. Most of these devices were located in numerous bunker complexes.

In northern Iraq, the Iraqi military routinely boobytrapped 5-gallon cans of napalm to harass and intimidate the Kurdish population. Another common booby trap encountered involved daisy chaining the Valmara 69 antipersonnel (AP) fragmentation mine.

Use of booby traps Iraq has been similar to that in Israel where they have inflicted casualties and provoked terror among United States (US) and coalition forces.

The proficiency of attacks in Iraq increased along with frequency with many of attacks directed toward interdicting convoys. As a good number of Iraq highways are extensive and modern, with four- to eight-lane paved roads in portions of the country. Extensive use of traffic circles is widespread. Coalition forces use these improved roadways for high-speed movement with many route options. As a result, IEDs pose the greatest threats to convoys. Unfortunately, the coalition traffic pattern analysis is relatively easy to predict, increasing vulnerability to enemy attacks. There are many bridges and overpasses - which are also possible chokepoints. Built-up or vegetated medians divide most roadways. Many IEDs have been placed in these median strips, some placed under girders. Meals, ready-to-eat (MRE) boxes, soda cans, manholes, tunnels burrowed under roads, cement-encased bomb projectiles, and even dead animal carcasses have been used by the insurgents to conceal IEDs.

As of late 2003, 40 to 60 percent of all attacks began with an IED. Some of these attacks included direct fire attacks immediately following the detonation of the device. However, more and more IEDs were subsequently being used as a stand-alone means to engage a convoy.

Some of the IEDs have been remotely detonated using relatively simple, readily available low-technology devices, such as garage door openers, car alarms, key fobs, door bells, toy car remotes, FRS and GMRS two-way radios, cellular telephones and pagers - which enable radio frequency command detonation. Therefore, this implies that observation of the target area probably requires line-of-sight observation points in many cases. However, the adaptation of using radios, cell phones and other remote control devices has given the enemy the standoff ability to watch forces from a distance and not be compromised.

Location of IEDs, UXOs and unexploded sub-munitions
along the Ar Ramadi-Baghdad corridor
As of mid-May 2004

When conducting a tactical convoy, soldiers need to:

  • Quickly identify potential ambush sites that may coincide with locations of IED and avoid the area.
  • Quickly move away from the IED and/or ambush kill zone.
  • Keep a standoff distance of at least 300 meters (radio or cell phone transmission within 300 meters may cause detonation).
  • Look for potential secondary devices in what may seem like the best possible location to occupy or along an alternate route.

Enemy forces in Iraq have used the following TTPs when employing IEDs:

  • Using command-detonated devices, both hardwired and radio controlled.
  • Using mortar rounds, artillery projectiles, and other explosive-filled ordnance as the explosive device.
  • Using locally purchased battery-powered doorbell devices to remotely initiate IEDs.
  • Using speaker and similar type wiring to connect the explosive device to the hide position.
  • Using hide positions that most likely have line of sight to the kill zone (whether a building or abandoned vehicle) and an easy escape route.
  • Camouflaging IEDs in bags of various types to resemble garbage along roadways, burying these devices in the roadbed or median, placing them under the paving stones on walkways along the road, and covering them with rocks.
  • Using decoy devices ("bait devices") out in the open to slow or stop convoys in the kill zone of the actual device that is hidden along the route of travel.
  • Throwing devices from the road side or from overpasses. Devices are swung down on ropes measured to ensure they strike the vehicle's windshield.
  • Personnel seen throwing IEDs have been males of all ages.
  • Using the carcasses of dead animals have been used to hide IEDs.
  • Placing the devices during darkness and detonating them between 0600 and 1200.

Daisy-Chain Munitions

A "daisy chain" of munitions is two or more explosive devices wired together so that a single signal will detonate all the munitions at the same time.

In the picture above, from Baghdad, the disabled bus (the green box in the photograph) is believed to be positioned to cause traffic to slow down and therefore increase the time the U.S. convoy or vehicles must be in the kill zone. In this example, the IED was not completed when it was discovered. The wire from the daisy chain to the detonator was missing. Notice that in this example there are several possible hide sites. The enemy could have been positioned in one of the several buildings at the top of the photograph.

These IED arrays typically comprise three to five medium-caliber (100 mm plus) artillery, mortar, or tank projectiles and, in some cases, multiple-rocket-launcher rocket warheads buried several meters apart in the center of the road or alongside the road. The shells are primed with blasting caps and connected with detonating cord or electric wire leading to a detonator. The IED array is typically set up for radio- or wire-command detonation.

Mitigating The Effects of "Daisy Chain" IEDS

  • Since the lethal area of buried "daisy chain" IEDs typically extends for several tens of meters, maintaining maximum tactically acceptable vehicle spacing can ensure that, at most, only a single vehicle is caught in the lethal area of the IED.
  • Drivers must be especially vigilant at minor road obstacles such as river fords, rough patches, and washouts where vehicles in a column often bunch up. Leaders and drivers must be adept at spotting dangerous areas and chokepoints where ambush is more likely as well as indicators of a daisy chain IED ambush.
  • These include successive, regularly spaced patches of recently disturbed soil in the middle or to the side of the road; stretches of roadside vegetation or piles of debris that seem out of place; or salvageable metal or wood left by the side of the road.
  • Normal counter-ambush techniques, such as varying vehicle speeds while in convoy and, if attacked, refusing to stop in an ambush zone are also valuable.
  • Like any other potential mine ambush, vehicle crews should also be wary upon entering areas where local villagers are inexplicably absent and be on the lookout for likely "kill zone markers" and suspicious movement by possible "scout" vehicles trailing or passing the convoy in either direction.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:59:27 ZULU