Fighting A Hidden Enemy: Meeting Iraqi Kurdistan’s ‘Million Mine Man’, Who Will Defuse Until He Dies
A 53-year-old local of Halabja has been defusing mines for over 27 years. Despite the loss of two limbs, he swears he won’t retire – and he’s also opened a mine museum and launched school campaigns.
It took Hoshyar Ali a while to realise that his right leg was gone, torn off by the force of the explosion. But the de-mining expert, who lost his limb in a 1989 explosion in the Bamo area, in the Iraqi Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah, says his accident made him even more determined to continue his work.
Today, the 53-year-old retired major general, formerly a soldier with the military in the semi-autonomous northern region, reckons he has defused around one million mines. It is hard to confirm these numbers but given the amount of time he has been doing this work, and the number of mines defused in the region annually – around 16,000 mines were removed over the past year and 18 million cubic meters of land were made safe – he may well be right.
Ali has been getting rid of mines for 27 years now. In the 1980s he worked on the borders of Iran and Iraq, defusing mines left over from the war between the two countries. In 1994, Ali lost his left leg too, in another mine explosion in the Banjuin area in Iraqi Kurdistan and he has had other, less serious wounds too. Yet he has never stopped working.