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The Fertile Crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates
Rivers on the ancient Mesopotamian plain has been called the Cradle of
Civilization as the birthplace of earth’s earliest civilizations.
After many conquerors, Iraq was invaded by Arab Muslims in the seventh
century adopting its present-day language and religion. Iraq achieved
independence from Great Britain in 1932 and has since been ruled by
military strongmen. In 1979, Saddam Hussein acceded to the Presidency
and declared the Iraq/Iran border agreement (the Algiers Agreement) null
and void, claiming sovereignty over the Shatt el-Arab region and
sparking the Iraq/Iran War.
Iraq is considered one of the most mine-affected
nations in the world. Iraq’s landmines have been emplaced for three
main purposes: to protect its borders during the lengthy war with Iran
(1980—1988), to ward off invasion during the Gulf War (1990—1991),
and to subdue the Kurdish population. Though the greatest concentration
of mines is found in the three northern governorates, they are also
present along the border with Iran in central and southern Iraq. The
country produces and exports AP mines, yet most of the large number of
mines deployed in Kuwait and Iraqi Kurdistan were imported.
The UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) has run a
Mine Action Program (MAP) in Northern Iraq since 1997 as part of the
Food for Oil Program, which enables aid to reach the country despite
sanctions imposed as a result of the Gulf War. The MAP has identified 25
types of landmines planted in more than 3,200 mined areas over
approximately 491 square kilometers.
The UNOPS MAP reports that since 1980, 9,289 people
have been injured or killed by landmines in the northern territories.
However, this number may only be a fraction of the actual number of
victims because hospitals keep the records of mine casualties, and in
rural regions, victims often do not have transportation for the long
journey to a medical facility. Handicap International (HI) estimates
that 30 percent of landmine victims in Iraq die before reaching a
Along with the extensive Mine Action Program, other
groups engaged in demining in Northern Iraq include the Mines Advisory
Group (MAG), Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), Solidarity, the Kurdish
Mine Removal Society and the Kurdish Humanitarian Mine Clearance
After the Gulf War, the Kurdish people returned to their heavily
mined mountainous homeland, where they are able to cultivate only 50
percent of the agricultural land due to mines. Restoring the land is
necessary to ensure the region’s long-term economic well being. In the
meantime, basic chores such as farming, herding animals and collecting
firewood are life-threatening activities.