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Issue 7.2, August 2003

A War Far From Over: Iraq’s Landmine Struggle

For up-to-the-minute information on mine action in Iraq, go to the Mine Action Information Center website at

by Nicole Kreger, MAIC

Mines/UXO in Iraq: A Brief History

Having experienced three major conflicts in as many decades, Iraq suffers greatly from the remnants of these wars. Estimates of the number of landmines in Iraq range from 8 to 12 million—which doesn’t include UXO or other debris. The majority were laid during the Iran/Iraq war of 1980–1988. Additionally, a number of landmines and pieces of UXO remain from internal conflict during the 1960s and 1970s as well as the Gulf War of 1990–1991. Some of the explosives were even left behind from World War II.

“The latest stats is that the Coalition Forces are getting attacked on an average of 13 times every 24 hours. Fifty percent of these attacks involve IEDs made up of various ordnance items.

“Given the sheer tonnage of ordnance laying around Iraq, those with a beef against the U.S. do not have to look very far to find items that can be used as a main charge for these devices. They are sitting openly in every housing area and street corner.”
- Roger Hess

Most contamination exists in northern Iraq (also called Iraqi Kurdistan) and along the country’s borders with Iran and Kuwait. Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, is also heavily mined, as well as the southern city of Basra. A lack of minefield records has made the exact locations of many minefields difficult to identify. In addition to being a threat to the lives of the Iraqi people, landmines and UXO are a significant impediment to economic growth, especially in the areas of foraging, cattle farming and agriculture. Mines are commonly found near water sources and in rural farmland, complicating everyday activities; they also hinder access to a number of important roads, ports, irrigation canals and power plants due to landmine/UXO contamination.

From Bad to Worse: The Effects of Another War

The landmine crisis in Iraq was serious enough before the recent conflict, and additional fighting has only exacerbated the situation. Saddam Hussein littered thousands of mines around the key northern city of Kirkuk, as well as on main roads. Iraqi troops also mined stretches of the southern Persian Gulf in order to block out Allied ships and in many cases left mines behind when they retreated from key areas, often near important locations such as wells, oil fields and important roadways. Additionally, some of the cluster bombs that the Coalition Forces used did not explode and present a great danger because curious children often play with them and people try to take them apart for the value of the metal.

Iraqi munition storage area. c/o Peter Saltvik, SRSA EOD Operator

Despite these ever-present dangers, mines and cluster bombs are not the biggest immediate peril for the population. According to Roger Hess, a mine action professional currently in Iraq, the primary threat (particularly south of Baghdad) “is the massive amount of ammunition stockpiles, weapons systems and missile sites that were intentionally placed inside the cities and civilian housing areas by the previous regime.”1 Looting has caused these stockpiles to be exposed and mixed together, and many of these weapons are unstable. According to the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), while adult males and boys are most at risk of injury from such weapons, stockpiles and munitions caches are a serious threat to the population as a whole, and the most serious one at present. Iraqi troops left ammunition stockpiles behind them in all kinds of locations, including civilian homes, schools and mosques.

The Long Road to Recovery

With all of the war remnants the Iraqi people have to live with, there is a great need for assistance in clearing them. A number of governments and organizations have offered their services in helping contain and eradicate the mine/UXO problem in Iraq. Several organizations have already begun their clearance activities.


In April 2003, RONCO Consulting Corporation’s Quick Reaction Demining Force (QRDF), a team designed for short-term rapid response to emergency demining situations, deployed to Iraq from its base in Mozambique at the request of the U.S. Department of State (DOS), Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs (HDP). Within three days of its arrival, the QRDF quickly began battlefield area clearance (BAC) and demining tasks in and around the capital of Baghdad. In slightly more than three months, the four 10-man teams of manual deminers and eight mine detection dogs (MDDs) have cleared approximately one million sq m of land, and found and destroyed almost 2,000 mines and other items of UXO.
During June, the QRDF conducted clearance operations at two separate locations in Iraq. Two manual clearance teams, with the aid of four MDD teams, worked on two minefields 90 km south of Baghdad along the main highway from Basra to the capital. Clearance operations on one of these minefields, which was the first one to be cleared in post-war Iraq, was completed during the month. QRDF teams found 286 Italian-manufactured AP mines in this minefield, most of which had been previously planted and later lifted and replanted by the Iraqi army. Prior to the completed clearance of this minefield, two other manual clearance teams, also complemented with four MDD teams, concentrated on clearance of UXO and cluster munitions in and around Baghdad. These BAC tasks were started shortly after the deployment of the QRDF, but quickly grew in size as local farmers made requests to the local command post to have their own fields cleared. In addition to these tasks, the QRDF has also cleared areas around the Iraqi electrical office in Baghdad to enable the repair of two power pylons and around the highway department’s housing and office compound. Clearance operations will continue in Baghdad during July.


The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is in charge of coordinating all of the United Nations’ emergency humanitarian response mine action activities. Through the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS), UNMAS has established the Mine Action Coordination Team (MACT), which coordinates UN activities for the recently established UN Office of the Humanitarian Coordinator Iraq (UNOHCI). The MACT is leading the development and implementation of the emergency response UN Mine Action Operations Plan for Iraq. At the time of writing, the MACT was conducting explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) activities with assistance from the Joint Force EOD Center. In addition to these efforts, the MACT is in charge of maintaining the country’s Information Management System for Mine Action (IMSMA) database; developing and upholding mine action standards for current operations; and providing accreditation, quality assurance and priority setting.


MineTech International teams arrived in Basra in late May and have been conducting EOD tasks in that area. Working under UN auspices, MineTech is fulfilling its duties as part of the UN Rapid Response Mine Action Contract. In July, they began conducting a Rapid Assessment Survey in the southern governorates in the region of Basra. Their staff includes about 90 EOD and mine clearance experts, MDDs with handling teams and emergency survey capabilities. These resources are sufficient enough to carry out their operations for three to six months.


UNOPS, working under the auspices of UNOHCI, has contracted several local NGOs to conduct mine clearance operations for its Mine Action Program (MAP). UNOPS-funded manual clearance teams (MCTs) are engaged in demining activities such as reconnaissance, recovery and destruction in several areas of the country. As of the end of June, the MCTs had completed mine clearance tasks in five minefields in the governorate of Erbil. At that time, demining activities were underway in 57 minefields in the three northern governorates. Additionally, they were conducting permanent marking operations in 10 villages in that area. From June 1st to June 26th, UNOPS-contracted organizations finished 28 EOD tasks, recovering over 10,000 pieces of UXO and almost 150 AP mines. During these tasks, the teams destroyed an additional 1,220 cluster bombs, 16 AP mines and 187 pieces of UXO. During the week ending June 23rd, the UNOPS MAP was able to give 254,214 sq m of cleared land back to the local population of Sulaymaniyah governorate. Furthermore, UNOPS Survey Teams have been conducting Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) activities in the five-km zone that borders Iran, an area in which the government of Iraq had previously not authorized the UNOPS MAP to work.


The U.S. Department of State is helping MAG expand its efforts. c/o Sean Sutton

MAG has been conducting operations in Iraq since the early 1990s and even continued to do so during the recent conflict. Now that the war has ended, MAG continues to carry out emergency operations in northern Iraq and is working to expand its services to areas in the south of the country. In the north, Mine Action Teams (MATs) and EOD squads are performing clearance tasks in all seven governorates. These activities are based in Kirkuk and Mosul. In southern Iraq, MAG has established a base in Basra.

In mid-June, four Survey Teams began surveys in all areas of northern Iraq. In one week alone, they identified 99 clearance tasks. At this time, seven EOD teams were working in Kirkuk and eight were working in and around Mosul. During the week ending June 20th, MAG teams were able to return over 500,000 sq m of land to the community in the town of Kifri. Around the same time, MAG completed the clearance of a minefield in a village in the Qushtapa district. This 9,800-sq-m piece of land took 15 days to clear, and 16 mines were destroyed in the process. In mid-July, MAG began assessing the mine/UXO problem in the northern governorates using a Rapid Assessment Survey.


The U.S. Department of State (DOS) has announced it will implement a humanitarian mine action program in Iraq over the next three years. The DOS’s plans include establishing an Emergency Mine Action Team (EMAT), which will train Iraqi staff and provide them with equipment and supplies. This will lead to an indigenous mine action capacity within Iraq. Additionally, the DOS is helping MAG expand its efforts.


The Swiss Demining Foundation (FSD) is conducting reconnaissance and assessment operations in support of the World Food Program (WFP). Thus far, FSD personnel have searched a warehouse in Al Hilla, where they found three cluster bombs. Also, they have conducted surveys in dangerous areas alongside UNMAS, Handicap International and Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA). During these surveys, the group found over 200 pieces of UXO.


Danish Church Aid (DCA), an NGO located in Denmark, is conducting mine clearance operations in southern Iraq, specifically around Basra. Assessments conducted in late April and early May led DCA teams to identify five main task categories for the region:

  1. Ammunition storage and dumping sites
  2. Essential battle areas, minefields and strike areas
  3. Non-essential battle areas, minefields and strike areas
  4. Damaged or abandon weapon systems, etc.
  5. National capacity building

In accordance with the priorities set by the UN Mine Action Plan for Iraq, DCA is focusing on conducting surveys and assessments for categories 2 and 5 from the above list. The DCA teams began performing advanced disposal/clearance tasks at the end of May and plan to continue these operations through July. Plans for June include conducting priority tasks in Basra, initiating capacity building of the civilian defense structure, cooperating closely with other organizations and requesting a program extension. At the time of writing, four EOD teams were working around Basra, and by that time, they had responded to four tasks there and conducted reconnaissance and assessment of a water treatment plant near Basra. Funding for this project has been provided by Christian Aid.


In April 2003, the Swedish government determined it would provide support to UNMAS, to be carried out by the Swedish Rescue Services Agency (SRSA). The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) is funding the effort, which will cost SEK 15.6 million. Initially, this included providing one staff member and equipment for the IMSMA database for a year. Additionally, a fully equipped EOD team consisting of five people worked on clearing UXO in the area of Basra. The team found over 40,000 pieces of UXO in their first two months of operation. SRSA also provided a support team to the UNMAS MACT, including an Operations Coordinator, medical staff, electricians, vehicles and communication capabilities.

At the end of June, SRSA support was expanded to include providing a complete EOD team to the MACT for six months, beginning in July. Additionally, the expanded services include supplying an IT Technician, a Communications Officer and a Logistics Officer to the MACT for two months. SIDA will provide the SEK 4.5 million needed for these additions.

Other Contributors

The SRSA team during training in Sweden the day before departing for Kuwait. c\o SRSA

A number of other organizations are beginning or preparing operations in Iraq as well. The Danish Demining Group (DDG) has indicated its intention to fund four EOD teams in the Southern Area Sectors. Mechem, a South African demining organization, has worked in Iraq before, and plans to contribute to the current effort as well. InterSoS, a non-profit humanitarian organization, has a standby capacity of equipment for clearing cluster bombs that it has discussed contributing as well. The NGO NPA plans to transition from its pre-war clearance efforts in northern Iraq to post-war emergency assistance around Baghdad, including two EOD teams, four MDDs, one flail and five Emergency Response Teams. In addition to these organizations, a number of countries have plans to send troops and EOD teams to Iraq as well. So far, the list includes New Zealand, the Ukraine, Norway, El Salvador, Slovakia, Moldova and Nicaragua.


Even before the war, the UN Secretary General estimated that clearing Iraq’s minefields could take “anywhere from 35 to 75 years.”2 With the added effects of the recent conflict, the task of ridding Iraq of mines and UXO is a daunting one. With so many nations and NGOs cooperating in this effort, however, the Iraqi people have hope that they will one day live in a country where they no longer have to worry about the wars they have already lived with for a generation.


Many thanks to everyone who provided me with information for this article, especially Stacy Smith of RONCO.


  1. Hess, Roger. E-mail post to MgM Network. June 27, 2003.

  2. “Landmine Situation in Iraq.” June 23, 2003. Online document: July 15, 2003.

  3. Brandt, Kim Agger. DCA Iraq, HMA Report. June 3, 2003.

  4. “UN Deploys Rapid Response Mine Action Force to Iraq.” MineTech International – News. July 3, 2003. Online document: July 15, 2003.

  5. E-mail correspondence with Pehr Lodhammar. July 4, 2003.

  6. Lister, Richard. “Iraq’s Landmine Legacy.” BBC News. Available online: July 1, 2003.

  7. “A Week’s Clearance in Iraq: What MAG can Achieve.” May 9, 2003. Online document: July 2, 2003.

  8. “Iraq: UNOPS-MAP Situation Report 26 Jun 2003.” ReliefWeb. June 26, 2003. Online document:
    5f5776a0e422260485256d5200551d1a?OpenDocument. July 2, 2003.

  9. “Iraq: UNMAS Updated on Iraq 12 Jun 2003.” ReliefWeb. June 12, 2003. Online document:
    e4b5e6a2ed09908485256d4700524a12?OpenDocument. July 2, 2003.

  10. “Iraq: UNMAS Updated on Iraq 25 Jun 2003.” ReliefWeb. June 25, 2003. Online document:
    57c03f50b075037b85256d5100680601?OpenDocument. July 2, 2003.

  11. United Nations Emergency Operations Plan for Iraq. May 2003.

Contact Information

Stacy L. Smith
Program Analyst
RONCO Consulting Corporation
Tel: (202) 785-2791
Fax: (202) 785-2078

Archie Law
Tel: 212-963-4805

U.S. State Department
Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs
Tel: 202-736-7132

Lennart Skov-Hansen
Danish Church Aid

Pehr Lodhammar

Roger Hess

Nicole Kreger