Iraq: U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Efforts Save Lives and Build Capacity
The United States has invested more than $280 million in Iraq since 2003 toward the clearance and safe disposal of landmines, unexploded ordnance, and excess conventional weapons and munitions. This assistance, directed through several Iraqi and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), has made significant progress toward protecting communities 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
Communities across Iraq face danger from an estimated 10-to-15 million landmines and pieces of unexploded ordnance (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 recent activities of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq have dramatically altered the Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) landscape. As civilians flee large population centers like Mosul, they have become internally displaced persons in areas where they are not familiar with mine and UXO hazards. As families begin to return to their homes, they are confronted with both hazards from the recent conflict, as well as deliberate mining and booby-trapping of homes by ISIL.
During the past year, the Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) provided over $23 million to support CWD efforts in Iraq which led to the following results:
- Safely released and cleared landmines and UXO from more than 65 million square meters (from a total of 752 million square meters) of land across Iraq, which has revitalized economic and agricultural development throughout the nation.
- Destroyed more than 61,979 pieces of UXO and abandoned or otherwise at-risk munitions.
- Provided risk education to more than 38,000 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.
U.S.-Funded Partner Initiatives:
- MAG (Mines Advisory Group): State Department funding has enabled MAG Iraq to clear over 34 square kilometers of contaminated land, freeing 300 contaminated sites for productive use and responding to more than 20,000 spot tasks to safely remove and destroy 840,730 landmines and pieces of UXO in northern and central Iraq. In the upcoming fiscal years, MAG plans to begin clearing newly liberated areas for the safe and timely return of IDPs such as the Yazidi population in Sinuni, Zammar, and Rabeea. Additionally, MAG plans to deploy community liaison teams to deliver risk education to an estimated 71,700 civilians affected by ISIL-related violence.
- Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA): NPA provided technical advisors to the Iraqi Regional Mine Action Center - South in Basrah (RMAC-S) to assist it in fulfilling its role as a regulatory body that is able to coordinate and monitor mine action activities. This project has enabled the RMAC-S to conduct a survey designed to provide a more accurate picture of the mine/UXO situation in southern Iraq. Additionally, NPA’s WRA-funded teams cleared 164,868 square meters in 2014 and found 74 cluster sub-munitions, and 20 other pieces of UXO. In 2015, the same teams have so far cleared 1,732,105 square meters finding 1,086 cluster sub munitions, 157 other pieces of UXO, 22 anti-tank mines, and 7 anti-personnel mines.
- Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD): FSD’s proposed area of intervention was captured by ISIL and then liberated by Peshmerga forces between July 2014 and February 2015. Subsequently, FSD plans to deploy survey and clearance teams to those areas in late 2015 to increase civilian security for returning IDPs.
- Danish Demining Group (DDG): DDG will begin conducting survey and clearance operations in southern Iraq as well as assist in developing the program capacity of the RMAC-S in coordination with the Iraq Directorate of Mine Action (DMA). Additionally, DDG hopes to conduct risk education with the goal of reaching 120,000 beneficiaries in northern Iraq.
- Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP): iMMAP advisors continue to provide operational management, strategic planning, victims’ assistance support, and technical expertise. In September 2015, the DMA, Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency (IKMAA), and iMMAP signed a Memorandum of Understanding allowing iMMAP to establish a joint DMA and IKMAA Information Management Database to track humanitarian mine action (HMA) information in areas liberated from ISIL, and facilitate the flow of HMA data among various mine action NGOs assisting in reconstruction efforts.
- Spirit of Soccer (SoS): Spirit of Soccer continues to implement innovative projects using soccer as a means to promote education and outreach to children about the risks from landmines and UXO. Expanding on these techniques, SoS incorporated trauma training for youth affected by ISIL-related violence, and pursued local league and tournament sponsorships in order to target young Iraqi males at risk of joining extremist groups.
- Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI): MLI enhanced and refined the 12 Mine Detection Dog teams working with a local Iraqi demining organization. Furthermore, MLI continued the Children Against Mines Program in southern Iraq; linking three American schools to three Iraqi schools to promote mine risk education in schools and provide medical assistance to young survivors.
- Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD): The 2014 Country Planning Workshop for Iraq, which was facilitated by GICHD in August 2014 in Istanbul, provided an opportunity for key mine action stakeholders to exchange ideas and to explore, consider and assess future options and opportunities for advancing the assessment and management of CWD activities in Iraq. DMA based in Baghdad, IKMAA based in Kurdistan, PM/WRA, and all relevant international non-governmental organizations participated in this workshop.
The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of efforts to clear unexploded ordnance and landmines. Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2.5 billion to more than 90 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war. For more information on U.S. humanitarian demining and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, check out the latest edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.