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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: Ongoing insecurity hampers landmine clearance

BAGHDAD, 6 June 2005 (IRIN) - Ongoing insecurity in Iraq is hampering the clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO), forcing international organisations to leave the country or halt operations, experts told IRIN.

"The work in Iraq has become restricted for UN staff due to insecurity, which has increased every day in the country. We have been depending on private companies to support us, which have been doing great and efficient work in the south of Iraq," Salomon Schreuder, cluster manager of mine clearance for the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) told IRIN from the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Some of the NGOs that have stopped clearing mines are Danish Church Aid (DCA), Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), Handicap International (HI) from France and InterSOS from Italy.

Decades of war and internal conflicts have left Iraq with large quantities of UXO and mines, and in some parts of the country, depleted uranium (DU) contamination.

These pose a serious threat to the safety of the population, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, while preventing access to important resources, such as agricultural and grazing land, roads, water sources and residential areas.

Based on the last mine clearance survey by UNAMI in January 2005, an estimated 727 sq km were affected by mines, 6,370 sq km by border minefields, and 851 sq km were UXO/battle affected.

The Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a British NGO operating in the area for more than a decade, has removed more than 1,350,000 mines and UXOs from the northern governorates of Iraq since July 2003, but security concerns have delayed its work since the beginning of 2005.

According to local mine clearance officials, northern Iraq is said to be worse affected than the centre and south of the country. It is estimated that more than 12 million mines and UXO units are still present, and Sulaimaniyah in the northeast - representing nearly 200 sq km of the country's contaminated areas - still has almost 80 percent of its area under alert conditions.

Aid workers say more progress needs to be made on clearing land to ensure safety.

"Despite the brave work from all agencies to clean up the mines in Iraq, many areas are still heavily mined and difficult to access. The Iran-Iraq border is the most heavily mined area and requires intensive work. We are doing the best ... [we can] and hope that in the coming years Iraqis will walk in the land safely," Tom Molican, a local senior official of the Danish Demining Group (DDG) told IRIN.

To help speed up the process, the DDG, supported by UNAMI, has begun a US $4 million initiative to set up a local NGO by December to work on demining.

"It will establish a national NGO capable of dealing with a broad cross-section of explosive ordnance, as well as training and management of staff," Schreuder explained.

The figures for deaths or injuries caused by mine/UXO explosions in the country are unknown, but studies are being conducted to determine the number.

In the south of Iraq all the areas cleared since May 2003 have been used for agricultural proposes and providing safe access for local communities, bringing development and an income to hundreds of families.

"My land was mined by UXOs, but thanks to the UNAMI and DDG, today I can walk in it without being afraid of being a victim of decades of war in Iraq," Abu Hussam, 62, told IRIN in Basra. "I lost my son to one of the mines ... today I have planted rice in my land again, after more than 20 years."

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict

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This material comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Quotations or extracts should include attribution to the original sources. All materials copyright © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005



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