Many of Iraq’s landmines date back to the 1960s when fighting began between the Baghdad government and pro-independence Kurdish rebels in the north. The 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion added to the problems.
The largest contaminated area stretches for hundreds of kilometres along the border with Iran. Large quantities of UXO also remain scattered throughout cities and towns. Today, Iraq is one of the most mine-contaminated countries in the world with landmines and UXO covering 1,730sqkm, according to the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Around 1.6 million Iraqis in 1,600 communities, or one in every 20 Iraqis, are affected.
Up to 90 percent of contaminated land is agricultural, with many landmines also found around major oil fields.
A recent survey conducted by the UN Inter Agency Information and Analysis Unit found that per capita income is lower in mine-contaminated areas; education achievement is lower in mine-contaminated areas; households in districts with mines are more food insecure; residents of districts with mines rate services such as education and electricity access poorer than those without mines, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
In 2011, some 30 mine-related incidents were reported with 33 percent of cases fatal. According to UNDP, about 60 percent of reported landmine incidents involved people aged 25-44, while 47 percent of reported UXO incidents involved children aged 5-14.
Frustrated by the slow pace of demining, the government also plans to involve private deminers. “If I work according to the Defence Ministry approach we will need 25 more years and that’s why we want the private sector to get involved,” said Latif.