Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Humanitarian Demining Programs
July 2, 2003
The U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program in Iraq
The Landmine/UXO Problem
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:
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.