Mine action in Iraq

Yellow sign indicating danger of mines Yellow sign indicating danger of mines © Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

This article is a brief presentation of the report “Iraq Mine Action” by the independent information provider ACAPS. 

Following the 1980-88 war with Iran, the 1991 Gulf War, and the 2003 US-led invasion, Iraq has become one of the most contaminated countries by explosive remnants of war (ERW), landmines and barrier minefields. ACAPS, an independent association specialized in humanitarian needs analysis, provides a report with an overview of operations and mine action needs in Iraq focusing on four main goals: explosive hazards, risk education activities, victim assistance and rehabilitation and reconstruction of infrastructure. 

First of all, the report analyses the level of contamination in Iraq which is the 4th most contaminated country in terms of cluster munitions contamination and the first in the world in terms of the extent of the mined areas. A distinction needs to be made about two typologies of contamination: legacy and new contamination. Legacy contamination is located in the south, particularly in Basra district at the border with Iran and Kuwait where there is 66% of the total recorded ERW, and remounts to the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war and to the first Gulf War. While new contamination, which results from internal conflicts and Islamic State (IS) occupation in 2014-2017, it is mostly located in the governorates throughout northern and western Iraq. While legacy contamination consists of landmines in remote areas, new contamination is typically found in densely populated urban areas, where essential infrastructures have become inaccessible due to explosive traps placed by the Islamic State. According to iMMAP data, in 2020 there are at least 3 billion m² of contaminated land in the governorates under federal control, however it is hard to determine the real extent since there are no reliable national sources.

Mine action in Iraq has two main authorities: the Directorate of Mine Action is the authority in federal Iraq, while the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency is the authority for Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). Furthermore, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) coordinates international and national mine actors together with providing training and technical assistance. In addition, as regards demining companies there are both humanitarian and private companies: the first ones aim at land release while private companies have commercial interests linked to oil and try to secure their installations. However, mine action is characterized by administrative impediments which result in restrictions on humanitarian organizations. Covid-19 related restrictions too have had an impact on access for several Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) which have suspended their projects such as mine risk education programs. Further restrictions which avoided access to mine action are security risks, especially in disputed territories where non-state actors, namely IS, maintain their presence; the political context related to the disputes between the Iraqi federal government and the KRG, and the lengthy administrative processes which obstruct NGOs works. Besides, the movement of supplies such as the importation of certain technical instruments is difficult.  

According to the report, from January 2014 to June 2020 there were around 70,000 incidents involving explosive hazards in Iraq. Currently 8.5 million people in Iraq are vulnerable to the risk of landmines and IEDs. Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs), returnees and children are the most at-risk groups from explosive ordinances. Besides, Victim Assistance (VA) is a fundamental aspect of mine action, and comprises actions to help victims and survivors of incidents in overcoming the trauma and reinforcing their rights. VA services comprise medical care, to which access is often inadequate; physical rehabilitation, which is provided by a limited number of centers; psychological support, which is often unaffordable; and social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities which remain the most vulnerable ones. 

As a result, mine action is fundamental to allow safe and sustainable returns of many IDPs since the main reason to not return to their areas of origin are explosive hazards. Indeed, contamination impedes access to agricultural infrastructures which are an important source of employment. Besides, according to the report, the 2020 Iraqi unemployment rate rose to 13% and the GDP growth was expected to contract by 9,7% in 2020. Limited economic opportunities force residents of contaminated areas to adopt risky behaviors to generate income. 

 

To know more, please read: 

https://www.acaps.org/sites/acaps/files/products/files/20210122_acaps_briefing_note_iraq_mine_action.pdf

https://immap.org/story/immap-supports-the-iraqi-authorities-meet-their-international-mine-ban-convention-obligations/

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/FAO_Assessment1.pdf

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/iraq_hno_2020.pdf

 

Author: Eleonora Gonnelli; Editor: Benedetta Spizzichino

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