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Fact Sheet
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs
Washington, DC
July 2, 2003

The U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program in Iraq

The Landmine/UXO Problem

Before Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), an estimated 10-15 million landmines were deployed in Iraq, dating from conflicts as far back as World War II. Indeed, Iraq is considered one of the most mine-affected nations in the world. Under OIF, United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) set up procedures to identify minefield locations and established mechanisms to transfer unclassified data from the military to various civil mine action entities. Over 2,500 minefields, 2,200 unexploded ordnance (UXO)/submunitions locations, and thousands of abandoned munitions sites have been identified; and more are found on a daily basis.

International observers consider that, while landmines present a clear risk, particularly in border areas, a more significant threat is posed by UXO. According to a 2001 report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), UXO from previous conflicts - particularly the Iran-Iraq War and the 1991 Gulf War - have constituted the major humanitarian threat for the past several years in the North, along the Iraq-Iran border and throughout Central and Southern Iraq. The problem is now exacerbated by widespread presence of abandoned munitions and unexploded remnants from the most recent conflict. The OIF Coalition recognized this issue and has identified 308 UXO sites and provided this information to the international community.

Prior to the current conflict the only substantial mine risk education (MRE) and landmine/UXO clearance efforts were in Northern Iraq where the landmine/UXO problem was well-documented by a United Nations survey. The Iraqi Government took a dim view of mine action in the North. According to the Department of State's (DOS) 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the Government declared demining subversive in 1998, claiming that such activity violated Security Council resolutions on the need to respect Iraq's territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Government ordered workers performing such activity to leave Iraq. The UN and some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) ignored the order, although entry into Iraq was made more difficult with the Government denying visas to such personnel.

Before the current conflict, mine contamination was estimated to affect over 1,000 communities, with reported accidents caused by mines/UXO occurring at an average rate of 31 per month. Since March 20, 2003, the number of casualties has increased significantly. According to Mines Advisory Group (MAG) there have been over 400 casualties in the Northern governorates alone.

Much less is known about the problem in the South and Central Regions. Borders with Iran and Iraq are heavily-mined and the locations of the minefields are generally known. Beyond that, there were reports of Iraqi mine laying prior to the most recent conflict, but there is little evidence to suggest that this was widespread. Media reports suggest extensive artillery and aerial bombardment, contributing to the already significant UXO problem throughout the country, particularly in the Central Region.

ICRC has carried out mine/UXO awareness programs in 14 governorates and trained 20 Iraqi volunteers in Baghdad. The World Food Program began distributing MRE information with all food deliveries on June 1, 2003. These efforts are also supported by other MRE efforts from various NGOs, the United Nations, and the Coalition Information Operations, which includes messages concerning MRE.

United States Assistance

The United States began mine action assistance to Iraq in 2002 under the provisions of separate grants to the MAG and the Norwegian Peoples' Aid (NPA), non-governmental organizations prominent in landmine and UXO detection and clearance. The grants, which were awarded by the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, are to support clearance efforts in the Northern governorates.

Prior to the recent conflict, the United States developed a robust three-year plan, with funding of $12.6 million from the Iraqi Relief supplemental enacted by Congress in April. The plan includes:

(1) Mine Risk Education

The U.S. has developed and supplied materials for use by NGO's conducting MRE programs at locations with a high concentration of at-risk populations. DOS has positioned mine risk technical advisors to UNICEF in theater and has awarded a grant to MAG to support the establishment of MRE teams to operate in Central and South Iraq. The period of performance for these teams will be extended once additional U.S. funds are made available.
(2) Deployment of the Quick Reaction Demining Force (QRDF)

The QRDF - four 10-person teams - deployed from Mozambique on May 2, 2003, to work on high priority tasks.  Teams consist of 6 deminers, 1 medic, 1 team leader, 2 dog handlers, and 2 mine detection dogs.  RONCO Consulting Corporation, the State Department's demining contractor, has been tasked to implement this component of the plan.  The teams are performing clearance operations in the two regions of Al Hilla and Baghdad, and have cleared over 3,700 sq. m in two minefields as well as surface clearance of over 716,770 sq. m of UXO.

(3) Mine Action Coordination Capacity

To build an indigenous capacity for the management and coordination of mine action, the Department of State will support the establishment and development of the Iraq Mine Action Authority and an Iraq Mine Action Center. The Department will recruit, train and equip local personnel to assume these responsibilities. DOS and Department of Defense (DOD) have deployed mine action experts to advise the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), as well as local and national authorities, on matters relevant to the establishment of this capacity and to liaise with the USCENTCOM, United Nations, non-governmental and other organizations, as appropriate.
(4) Expanding Existing Capacity

Taking advantage of experience and expertise already in country (Northern Iraq), the plan envisions the engagement, through a grant with MAG, of four 22-man demining teams to support mine clearance requirements outside of Northern Iraq.   All mine clearance tasks conducted by MAG will be in accordance with priority tasks from the relevant authority.
(5) Demining Operations Capacity Building

The State Department will task RONCO Consulting Corporation to train and equip a cadre of 9 demining teams augmented by mine detection dogs.  RONCO will retain operational management responsibilities for these teams; provide technical advice and management training; and transfer all assets and control to the successor government's mine action authority when that authority has the capacity to assume such responsibilities. 

Military clearing will continue as operationally required. Building a mine/UXO clearing capability into the requirements for the New Iraqi Corps is also under consideration, as is the development of a civilian demining corps. Demining efforts will continue long after Coalition Forces are redeployed and will take a concerted effort by the U.S. and the international community to build capability within the nation of Iraq.

The present lack of an indigenous mine clearing capability does not preclude an operational capability now. Initially, all Mine Action (including both military clearing and civilian demining) is under the direction of the Coalition Joint Task Force Commander. The USCENTCOM-directed Mine Action Plan acknowledges the CPA as the relevant authority in Iraq with respect to mine action. USCENTCOM has established a Mine Explosive Ordnance Coordination Center to provide data interface between the military clearing and the UN and NGO demining efforts. CPA has been tasked to establish a National Mine Action Authority and a Nation Mine Action Center. Ongoing coordination between USCENTCOM lead mine action officer in Qatar and the UN Regional Mine Action Director has resulted in a coordinated approach to dealing with related issues. CPA has established an Emergency Mine Action Team (EMAT) staffed by representatives from the Departments of State and Defense to satisfy the Coalition Force Commander's objectives and establish mine action policy and to coordinate mine action projects throughout the country. EMAT will work closely with the mine action service providers and with the United Nations mine action infrastructure. The plan envisions transitioning responsibilities as the relevant authority for mine action to an Iraq Mine Action Authority as soon as possible.

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