Death Hidden in the Dirt: Old Land Mines in Maysan Still Killing Shepherds and Farmers
The authorities in Maysan province had been clearing land mines from the Iran-Iraq war with the help of the army, albeit slowly. But now the army has gone to fight extremists, the process has slowed.
The sound was deafening and awful. Clods of earth and stones flew into the air and there was smoke. The sound was followed by the cries of people nearby and then, even worse, the calls for help and screams of the two young boys who had been closest to the land mine. The third boy, who had also been nearby, was silent.
“I had never heard anything like that in my life before,” says Abdul-Amir al-Jizani, the father of the three boys who were closest to the land mine. “It was so frightening. And I didn't expect to see body parts scattered around – one of my sons – and the other two boys screaming and weeping.”
The al-Jizani family are shepherds and they move their cattle around in search of fertile ground in Iraq's southern Maysan province. The only mistake that the three young shepherds made was to lose their way on land that's been abandoned since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Most of the people in this area, Tayeb, which is about 30 kilometres east of the provincial capital, Amarah, do the same kinds of work, grazing and farming or working as shepherds. Every season about 2,000 people come from the outskirts of Amarah and spread out across about 36,000 square kilometres.
Land mines are a major problem for these roaming families – over the years the mines have been moved by environmental factors, like floods. In other cases the maps or signs showing where they were have disappeared.