BAGHDAD, 18 Dec 2005 (IRIN) - The Iraqi government signed a memorandum of understanding with Tehran last week aimed at eliminating landmines planted in the country during its war with Iran in the 1980s.
The defence ministry expects the accord, signed on 12 December, to result both in the eradication of unexploded landmines as well as improved relations with its neighbour. It is the first such agreement between the two former enemies.
The Iran-Iraq conflict, which lasted from 1980 to 1988 and resulted in over a million casualties, began when Iraq attacked Iran over disputed territories.
"If we work in partnership, we can get rid of all the mines," said Ra'ad Shalal, a senior defence ministry official. "Especially since Iran has experience and information as to where landmines were planted."
The agreement was made on the last day of a five-day meeting between the advisor and special envoy of the Iraqi Defence Minister, Lt-Gen Youssef al-Emara, and the head of Iran's Landmine Removal Centre which is affiliated with the Iranian defence ministry, Hossein Vaziri.
According to Shalal, the greatest concentration of unexploded landmines is in northern Iraq, along the border between the two countries, particularly in the districts of Kaladiza, Penjwin and Sharbazher.
"Based on studies done earlier this year, we found that 25 percent of the provinces in the north of the country are affected by unexploded landmines," he said.
Shalal added that some 150,000 families in the area were endangered by the existence of unexploded ordnance.
A joint Iraqi-Iranian committee, expected to be established early in 2006, will be mandated with training workers for landmine clearance. The committee will also try to raise public awareness in Iraq about the hazardous phenomenon.
Information on landmine-related deaths and injuries is relatively scarce, but sources in the Iraqi health ministry note that more than 2,000 prosthetic limbs - often used by landmine victims - have been needed in the last 10 years.
"With this accord we can save more lives in Iraq and prevent more children being severely injured," Shalal said.
Many Iraqi landmine victims, meanwhile, complain that aid organisations have been slow to help them since the launch of the US-led invasion and occupation of the country in early 2003.
"Years ago, there was always someone helping us, but since 2003, we've been forgotten," said Amira Hussein, a landmine victim from northern Iraq. "No aid has been released to us from any source."
According to Shalal, all landmine victims will eventually be registered.
He added that there was an expectation that victims would also be compensated for their injuries.
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