Demining Country Report: Iraq

Situation Report
Originally published
26 Feb 96 - Iraq said its civil defence teams defused tens of thousands of bombs the U.S.-led coalition forces dropped over the southern province of Muthanna during their 1991 campaign to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Five years after the end of the Gulf War over Kuwait, Iraqi newspapers publish periodic reports of mines either killing or wounding civilians, shepards and animals. (Source: Reuter)

7 Feb 96 - On 6 February, 870 items of unexploded ordnance were marked in 45 locations across the DMZ. With high winds and rain shifting both ordnance and markers, the risk of ordnance-related injury has been reported to be significant. The critical shortage of ordnance disposal explosives continues to be major safety concern within UNIKOM. (Source: UN/DPKO)


SITUATION - Dec. 95 - This report is specifically related to the mines problem in North Iraq, in particular the area referred to as Kurdistan. Intelligence on the situation there comes primarily from the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), active in demining there since May 1992. MAG has thus far cleared 20,777 landmines, 959,600 sqm of land, and 87,296 pieces of UXO.

North Iraq is seriously impacted by mines and UXO. Rae McGrath, writing in Refugee Participation Network in Mar. 94, reported that grazing livestock, collecting water and firewood, and scavenging, are the most mine vulnerable activities in northern Iraq. "Firewood collection is possibly the highest risk occupation for all age groups in a mined environment," he rote. "A common scenario is when a mother with several young children takes them with her to cut firewood, either to assist her or because they are too young to be left alone. Children become casualties either while helping to collect or carry wood or, in the case of younger children, by straying off tracks while the mother, loaded with wood, is unable to control them." He noted with concern the rise of a "land mine culture," which is strikingly similar to the situation in Cambodia, where land mines are an accepted component of daily life.

"Children, especially young boys, have been known to start mine collections and may use common mines to swap for rare ones." McGrath noted that part of the problem lay with mine awareness instructors handing out fake mines in refugee camps as teaching aids, and letting them "fall into the hands of refugee children as collectors' items."

In northern Iraq "the risk of mine-related death and injury is compounded as resettlement and agricultural activity gather pace - the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector being essential to attaining long-term economic self-sufficiency (some 17% of arable land is under mines," reports the UN. In the border region, 50% of agricultural land can not be used. In the governate of Sulaimania 40% of land is uncultivated because of mines.


MAG's database has figures for casualties, compiled from major hospitals in the three governates of Suleimaniya, Erbil and Dohuk. The figures do not include unreported injuries and deaths occurring in more remote areas. Since 1991, according to hospital records, 2,126 people died, of which over 65% were male in all governates, with children making up the bulk of the remainder (minimum of 20% in the three governates). There were 3,651 injuries.

MAG reports that gathering wood, herding animals and smuggling are the most high risk activities. Chwarta has the highest injury figures in the governate of Suleimaniya with 672, compared to 647 in Penjwin and 424 in Halabja. These injury figures do not include mine or UXO deaths.

Handicap International reported that of the amputations performed by its surgeons between 16 Nov. 91 to 9 Feb. 92, 48.8% (408) were below the knee, and 16.7% (140) were above the knee. Also, "about 30% of injuries die before reaching hospital from bleeding or abdominal injuries. Most of the rest are amputees." Out of 810 casualties that resulted in handicaps, 59.2% (480) were caused by land mines, whereas only 7.1% (58) were caused by bullets. 728 were men and 82 were women.


March 1996

The total number of minefields demarcated between March 1993 and October 1995 is 121 or 1,880,868 msq. In 1996, Mine Advisory Group (MAG) will be investigating how demarcation and minefield survey can be more closely linked with the community education programme. This will enhance the impact of the mine awareness messages as well as providing a practical response until such time as clearance can begin. Demarcation teams will have to expand accordingly. (Source: MAG)

The borders with Kuwait, Iran, Syria and Turkey are severely mined.

Disaster Aid Center/UK reports that there are 2.5 million mines in the governate of Dohuk. Save the Children estimates the figure to be near the 5 million mark.

Minefields: Areas in Erbil Governate already clearly marked to indicate mines include Sardekan Hill, Azadi, Derband, Nawpradan, Konyarasukosa, Shik Mowlan/Kandinowberger, Sirmin/Sinan, and Kandibokidera. Starting in the south, from the marshes towards the north, the main minefields in the north are: Khanaquin, Derbendikhan, Qaradagh, Halabja, Sherezor, Penjwin, Shanazeh, Merve, Qala Sholan, Mawat, Pijschder, Balisan, Haj Omran, Choman, Sidakan, Mirga Zor, barzan and Zakho Sahela.

Number of Mines

The UN estimate for Iraq is 10 million.

Country Statistics

Existing mines:
AT 2,000,000
AP 8,000,000
total 10,000,000
Cleared mines:
total 20,777
UXO Cleared: 87,296
Land Cleared: 1,880,868

Demining Capacity

MAG is demining in the north:

MAG Surveying: Between Mar. 93-Oct. 95, 121 minefields (1,880,868 msq) were demarcated, of which 32 minefields were completely cleared.

There are four demarcation teams working, with four more being trained. They have surveyed 1216 minefields (Aug. 95). MAG reports that of these, 497 are Priority 1 tasks and 719 Priority 2. It takes the surveyers about 2 weeks to demark an average size minefield of 20,000 msq. Doubling the four teams means it should take 6-7 years to demarcate P1 and P2 minefields. MAG also believes, however, that there are a further 700 minefields to be surveyed, of which 450 will be P1 or P2.

MAG Demining: There are over 200 technical/disposal national staff, supplemented by five expatriate mine specialists and one explosive ordnance disposal expert. The seven demining teams and four EOD teams are working from five bases of operation. These are: Choman, Diyuna (site of the training camp), Halabja, Penjwin and Chwarta. MAG responds to local and NGO requests for mine and UXO clearance. The newest operation base in Chwarta, established Sep. 95, is approximately 1600 km sq, of which 17 km sq of 70 kms of agricultural land is mined.

MAG Mine Awareness: By Mar. 94 all villages in the governate of Suleimaniya had been reached by community mine awareness field officers (they have been in field since Sep. 92). People are taught to distinguish between mines and minefields with puppet shows, plays, songs, posters and videos. A schools programme runs through the Oct.-May school year.


Mine laying in northern Iraq began in the 1960s and continued throughout the 1970s in an effort by the central government to subdue Kurdish separatists. During the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War, the north was mined for strategic purposes. "Iraqi mine laying in their northern provinces was targeted both at the one-time Iranian foe and the local Kurdish population, whose lands and villages were thus made uninhabitable," writes Michael Griffin in Ceres. Mines were planted in irrigation ditches, grape or watermelon plantations, pasture land and forest margins.

According to one Iraqi sapper commander, his 20-man section laid between 80-100,000 AP and AT devices in the Zakho region, working flat-out over a 20-day period shortly after the invasion of Kuwait. There were 120 sections working simultaneously in the same area, reported Griffin. Another report has a team of military engineers laying 4-5,000 mines per day just below the earth's surface along the border with Iran. Many mines have a life-span of 45 years. It is estimated that a 120 strong company of army engineers could take 12 hours to lay 5,000 mines in one sq km. Millions of land mines were sown in southern Iraq during the Gulf War. Millions more were sown in Kurdistan during the Kurdish uprising which followed. And still more were left by Turkish Army units which entered Iraq in 1995 in hot pursuit of Kurdish rebels.

Mine notes

The most common mines identified in Iraq are the Valmara 69 and the VS-50. They are manufactured by Italian arms manufacturer Valseall Meccanotecnica SPA of Brescis. Because of bans on doing business with Iraq, the company set up a new company in Singapore to obtain a trade and manufacturer's licence. Chartered Industries of Singapore, whose government has a stake in the company, produces identical mines to Valsella.

There are three types of minefields in Iraq:

1) Regular Minefields: Laid to ward off army attacks, they were laid in a pattern until 1987, when they were laid randomly.
There are many Iranian regular minefields laid in southern Iraq.

2) Irregular Minefields: These were planted by engineers to channel population flows out of rebel territory. and disrupt community living. Farms, orchards and waterways were mined.

3) Military Defensive Minefields: Mines were laid to protect military checkpoints and installations.

Inhumane Weapons Convention


Moratorium on the export of anti-personnel mines

no Mines found in Iraq and their origins

Type-72A China
No 4 Israel
SB-33 Italy
TS 50 Italy
VAR-40 Italy
VS-50 Italy
Valmara 69 Italy
PMD-6 Russian Federation
PMN Russian Federation
POMZ-2 Russian Federation
M14 United States
M16 United States
M18A1 (detonator) United States
PROM-1 Yugoslavia