The Mine-action Process in Iraqi Kurdistan

by Jamal Jalal Hussein [ Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency ]

Image 1
A mine-detection dog handler and a trained mine-detection dog are searching a marked hazardous area for landmines. All photos courtesy of Jamal Jalal Hussein
Image 2
A landowner is signing the handing-over documents.
Image 3
Head of IKMAA Siraj Barzani, government officials and landowners attending the transfer-of-land ceremony.

The Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency has been working to clear Kurdistan of landmines and unexploded ordnance that were placed by the former Iraqi government over the past 40 years and the Iranian Army during the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988. The Agency is overcoming many challenges and has cleared a vast number of minefields so the land can be handed back to the owners. Casualties from explosive remnants of war are extremely high, but a new mine-risk-education program will inform people who live in dangerous areas how to minimize the threat of explosive remnants of war.

The existence of landmines and unexploded ordnance in any community has a direct impact on the local people, especially in regard to their economic, social and physical well-being. The previous Iraqi governments systematically contaminated Kurdistan's land with mines.

Since the initiation of the Kurdish freedom revolution and other Kurdish struggles, this practice was continuously applied to Kurdish lands and was prolonged when the former Iraqi regime came to power in February 1963. An "Arabization" strategy was used in an attempt to change the demographics of northern Iraq whereby the Iraqi government displaced Kurdish families from their land and replaced them with Arab families from other areas of Iraq. In addition to this hardship, during the consecutive conflicts that consumed all of Iraq and Kurdistan, huge areas of Kurdish land were heavily contaminated with mines and explosive remnants of war. This contamination led to thousands of Kurdish citizens being killed or facing lifelong handicaps.

Clearance Goals

The vision of the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency is to rid Kurdistan of ERW. Currently the mission is to reduce the impact of mines and unexploded ordnance in the affected communities of Kurdistan. This vision will be achieved through the demining process (survey of contaminated communities, mapping, marking of hazardous areas, and destruction of mines and UXO), mine-risk education and victim assistance. It is a great challenge to clear mines from Kurdistan due to the difficulty of the demining process, the large areas that were contaminated and the approximate quantity of emplanted mines numbering in the millions.

Achievements

There are 3,512 registered minefields in Kurdistan. From the beginning of the demining process in Kurdistan in early 1993 through late 2004, a total of 567 minefields and battle areas have been cleared and returned to their owners.

Approximately 5,615,989 square meters (2.17 square miles) of mined areas have been cleared, with 25,226 anti-personnel mines, 890 anti-tank mines and 273,404 pieces of UXO destroyed. Throughout 2005 and 2006, 100,083 people have directly benefited from IKMAA's clearance, explosive ordnance disposal and MRE efforts.

Table 1
Table 1: Mine and UXO victims in four Kurdistan governorates from 1950 to 2003.

Factors Influencing Demining Difficulties

Experience shows many factors directly affect the clearance process and lead to a slowdown in progress. The age of the minefields, as they are already 20–26 years old, leads to a number of complicating factors and difficulties in conducting demining operations. Some of these factors are related to Kurdistan's natural terrain and topography while other factors stem from the difficulty of mine clearance, the risks associated with mine clearance and difficulty of implementing the International Mine Action Standards due to safety concerns. Specific factors that affect mine clearance are:

Other Activities

IKMAA presented its achievements and activities via a comprehensive demonstration at a photography exhibition on 4–5 July 2006, at Media Gallery in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region. Photographs of all aspects of IKMAA activities were displayed, such as explosive ordnance disposal, surveys, demining assets used in Kurdistan (manual, mechanical and mine-detecting dogs), cleared minefields in Kurdistan and the handing over of land to owners.

The role of mine-risk education in IKMAA was presented via a number of photographs which were taken as MRE teams conducted and provided mine awareness to communities affected by landmines. MRE materials and publications were displayed. Additionally, the role of mine-victim assistance as one of the mine-action pillars was demonstrated through presenting prosthetic limbs and orthopedic devices to mine victims.

An outdoor demonstration of the demining process was also given. It highlighted the difficulty of the deminer's job.

The organization has handed over 39 cleared minefields (more than one million square meters [0.4 square mile]) to the landowners. There has been significant work toward reducing the impact of ERW in contaminated communities, clearing and returning them to their Kurdish owners and reviving the socioeconomic infrastructure of the region. In 2006 IKMAA held four ceremonies to transfer the 39 cleared minefields. It is worth mentioning that the 39 minefields were cleared by local deminers from mine-affected communities. Direct beneficiaries of landowners signed the transfer-of-land documents and accepted the cleared lands during special ceremonies.

The MRE section at IKMAA has conducted three summer-school courses in mine/UXO-contaminated villages. The courses aim to: enhance the awareness of children and pupils regarding the danger of mines/UXO; teach children skills such as computer use, painting, learning music, acting, protecting the environment, administering first aid and understanding children's rights while also using the summer holiday to provide information in the form of special classes, rather than spending time inside dangerous areas around the children's villages.

Conclusion

The Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency is proud of its accomplishments and is doing all it can to make Kurdistan safe from landmines. IKMAA will continue to demine dangerous areas, educate people on the risks of mines and assist mine victims. Despite the many difficulties, IKMAA strives to inform the Kurdish people of the dangers of landmines and UXO. Bullet

The IKMAA legislation was formally announced and approved by the parliament of the Kurdistan Regional Government on 7 May 2007. The legislation's 23 articles are in five sections that cover IKMAA Definitions, Establishment and Objectives, Structure and Responsibilities, Finance, and Final Provisions.

Biography

HeadshotJamal Jalal Hussein is a mine-action expert with the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency and Director of the Fria Society of Mine Action Professionals in Erbil, Iraq. He earned a Bachelor of Science in chemistry in 1986. He began work in the field as a deminer in 1998 with Greenfield Consultants. He became a Demining Team Leader in 1999 and a Demining Training Instructor in 2000. He has also worked with the United Nations Office for Project Services as a Technical and Safety Guideline and Training Monitor.

Contact Information

Jamal J. Hussein
Mine Action Expert, IKMAA
Director, Fria Society of Mine Action Professionals
Erbil / Iraq
Tel: +324 84 458509
E-mail: Jamal.jalal@ikmac.org