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Published:August 25th, 2007 07:14 EST
Land Mine Survey Helps Iraqis

Land Mine Survey Helps Iraqis

By SOP newswire

Washington -- “I’ve seen firsthand the life and livelihood impacts” caused by land mines on civilians in Iraq, says the director of a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that trains and supervises personnel who conduct land mine surveys.

Joseph Donahue, director of the Information Management and Mine Action Program (iMMAP), told of a family in Suleimaniya in which the father lost a hand and a daughter a leg to land mines while harvesting in an orchard.

“Some of these folks are rural, they’re poor, they’re desperate.  They assume this risk because they want what everybody wants: to be able to take care of their families,” Donahue said in an August 22 USINFO interview.

In communities in southern Iraq, he said, many people have been killed or injured by land mines and unexploded munitions while attempting to salvage scrap metal from abandoned battlefields.

“It’s economic desperation,” he said. “It’s the need to take care of one’s family.”

A recently completed Landmine Impact Survey in 13 of Iraq’s 18 provinces shows how the United States is helping Iraqis heal ethnic and sectarian rifts while working to rid the country of land mines, artillery shells, unexploded bombs and other deadly remnants of conflicts past and present.

This project is but one of many conducted by the United States in humanitarian partnerships across the globe.

Since 1988, the United States has been among the leading advocates of humanitarian mine removal efforts.  With the creation of the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program in 1993, it has provided nearly $800 million to 46 countries to fund mine detection and clearance, mine risk education to threatened populations and programs to help land mine explosion survivors and their families.  Coupled with funding are close partnerships with numerous humanitarian mine action NGOs.

The Iraq project, conducted in cooperation with the Iraqi government and funded through a $4 million grant from the State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, found that as many as one in five Iraqis faces a threat to life and livelihood from abandoned land mines and unexploded ordnance.

Survey teams were trained and supervised by the Washington-based iMMAP, with additional support from the European Commission and the U.N. Development Program and mine removal experts from RONCO Consulting Corporation and Mines Advisory Group, a British-based NGO.

Armed with information from this survey, Iraqi authorities can start planning mine removal, clearing more than 13.8 million square meters of productive land and destroying the nearly 140,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance and 13,000 land mines discovered by the survey.

Some Iraqi team members already have used their newfound skills to help in other post-conflict mine removal efforts in Armenia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, said Donahue.

As security conditions permit, survey teams will expand their survey into the five remaining provinces of Baghdad, al-Anbar, Diyala, Ninawa and Salah ad-din.

Whether the mines are left over from the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the 1991 Gulf War and Saddam’s ongoing campaigns of repression or the regime’s defensive measures in 2003 -- or even if the threat is unexploded weapons from coalition forces -- removal of these hidden killers is essential to speeding the flow of humanitarian assistance. The mine removals also will allow families to return to work and communities to start on the long road to recovery.

The State Department has invested more than $110 million in Iraq since 2003 to clear land mines and other explosive hazards, educate Iraqis about the risk of land mines and assist land mine explosion survivors. The funds also have been used to help Iraq create its first National Mine Action Authority and establish its first nongovernmental mine removal group, the Iraqi Mine/UXO Clearance Organization (IMCO).

Leftover weapons serve as the raw material for the improvised bombs used to target Iraqi civilians and coalition military forces.  In this regard, the Landmine Impact Survey is a valuable first step in building security by reducing civilian casualties.

Reflecting Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian diversity, the teams included Sunni and Shia Arabs, as well as Kurds, Turkomans, Yazidi, several Iraqi Christian sects and Zoroastrians. Team members traveled from village to village, interviewing area residents -- regardless of the communities’ ethnic or religious makeup -- about concentrations of land mines in the area and the number and severity of injuries.

The teams found thousands of mines and munitions buried in fields and hidden by Saddam’s forces on farms and in schools, mosques, health care clinics and other civilian facilities.  They often were stored improperly, and if left alone could have detonated because of excessive heat or tampering, but were removed and disarmed by IMCO’s bomb disposal experts.

The teams then used Global Positioning System equipment to digitally map hazard areas, which iMMAP compiled into a database for use by Iraqi authorities and their international partners after certification by the U.N. Mine Action Service.

A photo essay on the survey is available on the State Department Web site.

For more information, see Iraq Update.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer