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IRAQ: Government plans massive mine clearance operation

BAGHDAD, 4 February 2008 (IRIN) - Iraq is planning a huge mine clearance operation in a bid to rid itself of some 25 million unexploded mines in some 4,000 minefields, Environment Minister Narmin Othman said on 3 February.

She said a detailed report on mine clearance plans would be presented to the government by September 2008.

"According to global statistics, Iraq has about 25 percent of the world's unexploded landmines due to the wars it was involved in," Narmin told IRIN in a telephone interview.

The mines were laid during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, the first Gulf War following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1991, and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq which toppled Saddam Hussein.

"The majority of these landmines are concentrated in the border areas that stretch from the north with Turkey and Iran to the border with Kuwait in the south," Narmin said.

Mines commission ineffective

After the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq established a Mines Commission affiliated to the Planning Ministry. It was tasked to report on the numbers and locations of unexploded mines, draw up mine-related laws and engage mine clearance companies.

However, no major mine clearance operations have taken place because of the security situation.

"The government has been busy with the biggest threat against its existence, which is terrorism and that is why many mines did not get the attention they deserved," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told a press conference on 23 January.

"For every Iraqi citizen there is a mine that could kill him [or her] at any moment," al-Dabbagh added.

Last August, the government decided to put the Mines Commission under the Ministry of Environment.

"Since then, our ministry has been involved in detailed studies with the help of the UN and global partners," Narmin said.

Access to farmland, oil fields lost

Narmin said many aspects of life had been affected by the mines.

"Because of these landmines, Iraq has lost access to thousands of hectares of farmland and has been unable to invest properly in its oil fields," she said.

UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator David Shearer agreed.

"The heavy contamination of landmines had many different effects. The importance of this explosive material is not just about the damage it can do to ordinary people, it also impacts the economic development of Iraq itself," he said.

"The development of oil reserves and other industries in southern Iraq are being hampered by the presence of mines. The people cannot use agricultural areas as they should for their own economic development," said Shearer, who is also deputy special representative of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Ottawa Convention

Narmin said at the end of February the Iraqi government would sign the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel mines.

She said that within six months of signing the Convention, the ministry would present a comprehensive and detailed report to the government on all mine-clearance plans.

"We are in the process of coming up with a comprehensive strategy in this regard but we have yet to put practical measures in place," she said.

The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2008

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