Death Hidden in the Dirt: Old Land Mines in Maysan

Local Iraqi media continuously run headlines like this: Child killed by land mines, Oil worker loses leg in mine explosion. And Maysan is one of the most heavily mined provinces in Iraq, along with Basra, Nasiriya, and Muthanna.

“We don’t have detailed maps that show where land mines were planted on the border strip between Iraq and Iran,” says Samir Abboud, the head of Maysan’s Department of the Environment. “We actually only have a rough estimate – but we think there are about 3 million mines that have not yet been exploded or found, and these are causing casualties among local farmers.”

Abboud says they’ve tried to fence off areas they believe are mined as well as erect warning signs. But it’s a vast area and they haven’t been all that successful, he notes.

Although statistics are hard to come by, the Iraqi government estimates that there are around 5,000 victims of land mines in Iraq, with about 800 coming from the parts of Maysan bordering Iran. Most of these were farmers or shepherds.

The Head of the Health and Environment Commission in Maysan, Maytham Lafta al-Fartousi, believes there are about 5 million land mines in the province, along with millions of unexploded munitions. “These remnants of war are in the border areas between Iraq and Iran,” he explains. “Despite such big numbers, the central government hasn’t come up with any kind of plan to remove them or reprocess them.”

Between 2005 and 2006 a South African company was contracted to clear mines from Maysan. But the company eventually withdrew because of violent conflicts in the area that also targeted their premises.

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