The United States has invested more than $333 million in Iraq since 2003 toward the clearance and safe disposal of landmines, unexploded ordnance (UXO), and securing excess conventional weapons and munitions. This assistance, directed through several Iraqi and international nongovernmental organizations, has made significant progress toward countering the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This progress includes making possible the return of internally-displaced persons and refugees to areas liberated from ISIS; protecting communities who fled ISIS from potential risks; restoring access to land and infrastructure; and developing Iraqi capacity to manage weapons abatement programs independently over the long term.
The Landmine/Unexploded Ordnance Challenge
The activities of ISIS in Iraq have dramatically altered the Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) landscape. As civilians flee large population centers like Mosul, displaced families live in areas where they are not familiar with the local mine and UXO hazards. As families begin to return to their homes, they are confronted with hazards from the recent conflict as well as deliberate mining and booby-trapping of homes by ISIS.
Already, communities across Iraq faced danger from an estimated 10 to 15 million landmines and pieces of UXO from conflicts dating back to the 1940s. Numerous large barrier minefields and UXO remain along the Iran-Iraq border as a result of the 1980s conflict between the two nations. The war in 1990-1991 and the conflict that began in 2003 scattered significant numbers of additional UXO, particularly in the south of the country. The use of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by ISIS has compounded this problem.
During the past year, the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement provided over $33 million to support CWD efforts in Iraq which led to the following results:
Delivered risk education to more than 90,000 Iraqi men, women, and children, saving lives and preventing injuries with outreach programs to warn about the potential dangers from landmines and UXO in their communities.
Cleared improvised explosive hazards and UXO in areas liberated from ISIS to facilitate stabilization efforts and allow for the return of displaced Iraqis.
Continued clearance of legacy contamination in northern and southern Iraq to protect local populations and promote economic growth and security.
U.S.-Funded Partner Initiatives:
Danish Demining Group (DDG): DDG survey and clearance operations in southern Iraq are ongoing and have already resulted in the clearance of several hundred landmines and UXO. DDG continues to develop the program capacity of the Regional Mine Action Center-South (RMAC-S) in coordination with the Directorate of Mine Action (DMA). In addition to battle area clearance, DDG coordinates with the RMAC-S and local communities to provide emergency explosive ordnance disposal services.
Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP): iMMAP advisors continue to serve as a critical coordination body between DMA and Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency (IKMAA) information management database to track humanitarian mine action in areas liberated from ISIS, and facilitate the flow of data among various mine action nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) assisting in reconstruction efforts. Through monthly meetings, NGOs, representatives from DMA and IKMAA, coalition stakeholders, and Embassy Bagdad representatives coordinate efforts to counter contamination placed by ISIS and share the latest information about hazards and challenges.
Janus Global Operations (JANUS): JANUS continues surveying, marking, and clearing UXO and IEDs from key infrastructure areas in the provinces of Anbar and Nineveh. In Nineveh, JANUS has prioritized key infrastructure in recently liberated areas identified in coordination with UNDP and local authorities. Clearance operations are ongoing at schools, power stations, and medical facilities in Bartallah and other districts. As the security situation permits, JANUS has begun initial preparations for clearance of Mosul Airport and Mosul University. In Anbar province, clearance efforts allowed for the first class of students to return to Anbar University since liberation from ISIS. In addition to clearing several medical and residential facilities, future JANUS operations in Anbar will focus on Ramadi’s glass and ceramics factories that, when running at capacity, employ over 3,000 people.
MAG (Mines Advisory Group): MAG continues survey, clearance, and spot tasks to safely remove and destroy landmines and UXO from northern Iraq, and focuses clearing efforts on newly liberated areas for the safe return of IDPs. In just one month of operation in recently liberated areas, multi-task teams removed 103 improvised landmines from Tul Aband, where high rates of returning civilians were anticipated. MAG also provided risk education through community liaison teams to increase the safety and security of civilians affected by ISIS.
Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI): MLI provides training for mine detection dogs integrated into clearance operations in areas liberated from ISIS in northern Iraq. MDDs allow for accelerated search and marking of UXO.
Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA): NPA provides technical advisors to RMAC-S to assist in its role as a regulatory body to coordinate and monitor mine action activities. NPA teams clear legacy contamination in southern Iraq including cluster munitions, UXO, and land mines. In addition to clearance, NPA teams are identifying and conducting pre-clearance assessments on ten future sites identified by the RMAC.
Spirit of Soccer (SoS): SoS programs teach children and at-risk populations about the risks of landmines and UXO. Through drills focused on awareness, mine risk education sessions, and soccer tournaments, SoS harnesses youth participation in soccer to raise awareness of explosive hazards in liberated areas. SoS also incorporated trauma training for youth affected by ISIS-related violence, and pursued local league and tournament sponsorships, targeting young Iraqi males at risk of joining extremist groups.
Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD): FSD continues survey and clearance tasks in the Kirkuk Governorate coordinated by IKMAA to increase civilian security for returning IDPs in liberated villages, destroying 1,249 IEDs/UXO since operations began in March 2016. In addition to clearance, FSD is working to increase national capacity by training Iraqi staff in manual render safe techniques including IED excavation.