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Last Updated: 07 November 2012

Mine Action

Contamination and Impact

Iraq is massively contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), including unexploded submunitions, the result of internal conflicts, the 1980–1988 war with Iran, the 1991 Gulf War, the 2003 invasion by the United States (US)-led coalition, and the subsequent internal conflict that continues today, albeit less intensely. The resulting contamination has severely affected Iraq’s oil industry reconstruction and production as well as its agriculture.[1]


The mine contamination in Iraq is among the worst in the world, but Iraq has yet to determine the extent. The Iraq Landmine Impact Survey (ILIS) was conducted in Iraq’s 18 governorates in two stages. The first, covering 13 governorates in 2004–2006, identified 3,673 suspected hazardous areas (SHAs) covering an estimated 1,730km2 of land and affecting 1,622 communities and a population of 1.6 million. Survey of the remaining five governorates was completed in 2010 but the findings have not been released.

In the meantime, a non-technical survey (NTS) of the northern governorates of Erbil and Dohuk confirmed hazardous areas totaling 70.03km2, 84% less than the estimated size of the SHAs (450.1km2) identified in these areas by the ILIS.[2] More recently, a multi-agency NTS of Thi Qar province was completed in 2011. The Directorate of Mine Action has not released the results.

Despite the lack of data from these unreleased findings, there is known to be substantial contamination in uninhabited areas or areas that were depopulated in the course of recent conflicts which were therefore not reported in the ILIS, which was based on community interviews.[3] Iraq’s initial Article 7 report claimed that Iraqi forces emplaced more than 18 million mines on the border with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and another 1 million mines ahead of both the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.[4] In addition, security forces continue to find substantial caches of abandoned landmines.[5]

Cluster munition remnants

Submunition contamination is significant but the extent is unknown. A 2009 UNDP/UNICEF report commented that the highway between Kuwait and Basra was heavily targeted by cluster bomb strikes in the 1991 Gulf War.[6] Cluster munitions were also used extensively during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, particularly around Basra, Nasiriyah, and the approaches to Baghdad. In 2004, Iraq’s National Mine Action Authority identified 2,200 sites of cluster munition contamination along the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys.[7] Cluster munition remnants are a feature of many of the clearance tasks being undertaken for the creation of access to oilfields, the development of infrastructure, and for humanitarian reasons.[8] In the north, coalition air strikes around Dohuk in 1991 left contamination that has posed a serious hazard to residents seeking to return to the area.[9] In 2010, a Mines Advisory Group (MAG) survey of Dibis, an area northwest of Kirkuk, identified 20 previously unknown cluster strikes with contamination from unexploded BLU-97 and BLU-63 submunitions.[10]

Other explosive remnants of war

Iraq has extensive unexploded ordnance (UXO) remaining from past conflicts; it also continues to accumulate contamination from ongoing conflicts in the north, where in 2010 and 2011 Iranian and Turkish aircraft and artillery bombarded areas suspected to house Kurdish non-state armed groups (NSAGs).[11] Security forces have also continued to find substantial caches of weapons and ordnance accumulated by NSAGs.[12]

UXO contamination includes a variety of munitions, including air-dropped bombs and rockets, ground artillery, grenades, mortars, and depleted uranium (DU) ordnance; the DU ordnance includes “bunker-buster” bombs and tank-fired shells used by US and British forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[13] Britain acknowledged in 2010 that it used 1.9 metric tons of DU ammunition during the 2003 war.[14] In addition to the hazard posed by UXO in general, DU munitions have been claimed to be responsible for high levels of radiation found in scrap yards around Baghdad and Basra and which was reported in a joint study by the ministries of health, environment, and science.[15]

Mine Action Program

Key institutions and operators


Situation on 1 January 2012

National Mine Action Authority

High Committee for Mine Action

Mine action center

Directorate of Mine Action

International demining operators

NGO: Danish Demining Group (DDG), Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA)

Commercial: EODT, G4S, Mechem Arancho, RONCO

National demining operators

Government: GDMA, IKMAA, Iraqi Army (Engineers), Civil Defense

NGO: Iraqi Mine Clearance Organization (IMCO), Mir, Rafidain Demining Organization (RDO)

Commercial: Alsafsafa Company, Arabian Gulf Company, Ararat, Asa, Bestuni Nwe, Chamy Rezan, Khabat Zangana Company, Taaz Group, UBIQ Solution, Werya, Zukhrof al-Ardh

International risk education operators


NGOs: DDG, Handicap International, MAG

National risk education operators

Government: GDMA, IKMAA

NGOs: Bustan Association for Children’s Media and Culture, Iraq Health and Social Care Organization, Iraq Alliance for Disability Organizations, Iraq Red Crescent Society

Mine action in Iraq has two distinct components since the US-led invasion in 2003. In the three northern governorates under the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), mine action was managed until 2012 by (IKMAA) in the Erbil and Dohuk governorates and by the General Directorate of Mine Action (GDMA) in the Sulaymaniyah governorate. In April 2012, under KRG Decree 1010, the two organizations merged, leaving IKMAA as an umbrella organization with four mine action offices in Duhok, Erbil, Garmian (formerly under GDMA), and Slemani (Sulaymaniyah).[16]

In central and southern Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority assigned responsibility for mine action to the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation, which worked through a National Mine Action Authority. By 2007, this mechanism had ceased to function and in 2008 the cabinet transferred responsibility to the Ministry of Environment, which set up a Directorate of Mine Action (DMA).[17]

As of October 2011, the DMA, given responsibility for planning, accreditation, project coordination, prioritizing tasks, setting standards, quality management, and managing a mine action database, had a total of 124 staff in its headquarters in Baghdad. Throughout 2011, however, it had no director general. It is supported by the Regional Mine Action Center-South (28 staff) in Basra, which is intended to coordinate mine action in the south.[18] 

In practice, however, national security concerns meant the ministries of defense and interior continued to exercise key responsibilities, which severely limited the role of the DMA. In August 2009, the ministries of defense and environment signed a Memorandum of Understanding which identified the responsibilities of each and provided a basis for proceeding with the preparation of a 10-year strategic plan to be implemented in three phases covering 2010–2012, 2012–2015, and 2015–2019.[19] The agreement said the Ministry of Defense would be responsible for “Planning and Implementation of: Survey; Demarcation, and clearance of minefields.” The document said this “includes the operations implemented by International and National companies in which the MoD [Ministry of Defense] will be part of their administrative boards through a liaison officer.”[20]

In May 2011, a prime minister’s order established a Higher Committee for Mine Action (HCMA) under the Prime Minister’s office comprising the ministers of defense, environment, interior, and oil, together with representatives of the KRG and National Security Council. The HCMA, which has met twice since it was set up, is intended to create a policy framework and strategy for mine action. It is supported by a Technical Committee with the National Security Council’s Directorate for International Policy functioning as its secretariat. No supporting legislation has yet been drafted.[21]

Land Release

Land release is reported to have accelerated significantly in 2011 and 2012, particularly through southern oilfield clearance by commercial companies,[22] but lack of reporting by the DMA, RMAC-South, or most operators in central and southern Iraq means it is not possible to make a meaningful determination of its extent. In KRG areas, where authorities have consistently maintained reporting on the progress of mine action, the amount of land released by clearance was little more than half the level of 2010, and the number of UXO items destroyed about one-quarter.

Five-year summary of clearance


Mined area cleared (km2)

Battle area cleared (km2)



















Survey in 2011

A NTS of southeastern Thi Qar governorate was conducted in 2011 on behalf of the DMA by a range of NGO and commercial operators, including Danish Demining Group (DDG), The Iraqi Mine Clearance Organization (IMCO), G4S, Arabian Gulf and Al-Safsafa with technical support from Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA). The survey reportedly identified 98km² as confirmed hazardous area (CHA).[23] The DMA did not respond to requests for details of the results. At the intersessional Standing Committee meetings in Geneva, Iraq noted the contamination found by the Thi Qar NTS was substantially less than in the ILIS and it planned to undertake further NTS in the southern governorates of Basra, Maysan, and Muthanna in 2012.[24]

DDG reported canceling 7.43km² through NTS in 2011 and releasing a further 0.26km² through technical survey (TS).[25]

Mine and battle area clearance in 2011

Compared to 2010, mine clearance in the northern Kurdish governorates (conducted by IKMAA, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), and companies contracted by GDMA) dropped 44% in 2011 to 5.68km². GDMA led the way, reporting clearance in its area of operations of only a quarter of the mined land cleared in 2010, although the number of UXO items cleared was one-third higher than the previous year because spot explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) tasks were more emphasized.[26]

IKMAA, operating with a total of 35 teams, including 15 manual demining teams (120 deminers), two EOD teams, 12 mechanical and two mine detection dog teams, increased the amount of clearance of mined area by more than half compared with 2010, to 1.1km², but destroyed fewer mines. It attributed higher clearance numbers to better planning and task assessment. IKMAA’s battle area clearance (BAC) and EOD also resulted in destroying 17% more UXO items. After focusing in the past on humanitarian mine action, IKMAA was contracted by Kalegran Oil Company in September 2011 to clear 0.6km² and provide permanent marking on another 1.16km². IKMAA also reported negotiating with the KRG Ministry of Housing and Reconstruction on undertaking clearance to support construction of a highway between Choman and Haj Omran on the Iranian border.[27]

MAG, after fluctuations in funding and personnel numbers in 2010, continued working with 301 staff in 2011 and achieved higher area clearance results. MAG also reported a 31% increase in UXO items cleared through roving tasks, to 93,101 items, in addition to the 8,298 cleared through mine and BAC. Overall, MAG accounted for by far the highest UXO clearance of any operator in Iraq. However, MAG also foresaw a significant decrease in donor funding in 2012 and the likelihood of a cut in personnel numbers.[28]

Mine and Battle Area Clearance in 2011


Mined area clearance (km²)

Antipersonnel mines destroyed

Antivehicle mines destroyed



UXO destroyed

Submunitions destroyed




































In southern Iraq, the only international NGO actively clearing in 2011 was DDG, which conducted only BAC in Basra governorate working with a total staff of 181, including 73 technicians in eight EOD and two BAC teams, together with two TS and 10 community liaison teams. DDG reported lower area clearance in 2011 than the previous year but higher numbers of UXO items destroyed. With recruitment of additional staff in November 2011 and the deployment of seven large-loop detectors, DDG expected higher productivity in 2012.[29] The national NGO Iraq Mine Clearance Organization was active in the south but did not respond to requests for data.

The army and Civil Defense are reportedly active on mine clearance and EOD respectively,[30] but neither organization, nor the DMA, reported on the extent of their activities.

Most clearance in central and southern Iraq, however, has been conducted commercially under contract to the oil industry. Shell reported battle area surface clearance of 6.54km² by al-Safsafa (6.54km²) and Taaz (1,112m²) in 2011 and subsurface clearance of 2.37km² by al-Safsafa (1.69km²), Taaz (0.7km²) and IMCO (51,702m²). The default depth for subsurface clearance was 0.5m, but operators went deeper on specific tasks to a maximum of 6m. Operators cleared a total of 4,112 ERW, including 930 submunitions, 1,297 mortar shells, and 1,008 explosive projectiles.[31] Hans Nijkamp, Shell Vice President and head of operations in Iraq, was quoted in June 2012 as saying clearance was proceeding at a rate of 70,000m² a day.[32]

Compliance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty

Under Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty, Iraq is required to destroy all antipersonnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control as soon as possible, but not later than 1 February 2018.

The DMA provides no data on mine clearance, and incomplete reporting on mine clearance by operators makes it impossible to quantify accurately the extent of Iraq’s progress towards fulfilling its treaty obligations. However, Deputy Environment Minister Kamal Latif stated in 2012 that Iraq will not meet its 2018 clearance deadline.[33]

The significant lack of information available on mine action in Iraq itself points to weakness in the institutions and management of mine action that raise concerns about the government’s appreciation of what is required to fulfill its treaty obligations as well as the mine action program’s ability to meet them.

More than four years after adhering to the treaty, and thus nearly half-way towards its initial Article 5 deadline, the government of Iraq has yet to put in place a functioning mechanism for directing, planning, or upholding the standards of mine action. Although the KRG’s more experienced mine action program has conducted survey and manages clearance in the north, in central and southern Iraq the survey needed for clearance planning has barely started and clearance continues without effective coordination or oversight.

Quality management

In northern Iraq, IKMAA and GDMA conducted quality assurance (QA) of operators in their respective areas of operation in 2011. IKMAA operated eight QA teams that conducted 1,318 QA visits, sampling 22,482m², and reportedly finding 59 explosive items. GDMA operated 12 two-member QA teams which conducted 2,432 visits. Both authorities renewed accreditation for operators already present and accredited a total of seven new commercial companies.[34]

Safety of demining personnel

In central and southern Iraq, demining incidents and casualties were not reported.

In northern Iraq, IKMAA reported four missed-mine incidents, including one resulting in detonation, but no casualties resulted. A deminer reportedly sustained minor injuries from an antipersonnel mine detonation in November 2011.[35] GDMA reported 10 accidents involving mines and UXO but gave no details of casualties.[36]

Risk Education

UNICEF coordinates national and international NGOs in providing risk education (RE) in support of IKMAA and GDMA in the north and the DMA in central and south Iraq. Its main partners in 2011−2012 included Bustan Association, Handicap International, Iraq Alliance for Disability Organization, Iraqi Health and Social Care Organization (IHSCO), Iraqi Red Crescent Society, the ICRC, and demining operators including MAG, IMCO, NPA and Rafidain Demining Organization.[37]

In northern Iraq, IKMAA and GDMA worked with UNICEF on developing an RE curriculum for schools and published a range of RE posters, booklets, and card games. IKMAA teams delivered RE directly to people and communities identified as at-risk, including children, shepherds, nomads, and herb collectors, as well as through broadcasting messages on local radio and television.[38] GDMA conducted RE sessions in 128 villages in 2011 and 25 schools as well as conducting summer school programs in four areas. GDMA noted that RE activities generated 35 reports on the location of UXO items for clearance teams.[39]

The government approved an RE strategy for Iraq as well as RE standards in January 2011; since then UNICEF has given priority to developing a work plan and to building capacity to implement it. The target audience for RE initiatives was both high- and medium-impacted communities in the three northern governorates of Dohuk, Erbil, and Suleymaniyah, and the southern governorate of Missan, working through community focal points and media. UNICEF reported that it was working with the DMA and the Ministry of Environment on developing messages for central and southern Iraq.[40]

Among the challenges to RE, however, UNICEF included the inadequate commitment of national and regional governments to mine action in general and their weak leadership in supporting RE, as well as the lack of a single database, poor information exchange, and the slow accreditation of organizations willing to undertake RE. Ministries were not fulfilling their roles and responsibilities and the national capacities available “do not meet international commitments.”[41]


[1] “Landmine and unexploded ordnances factsheet in Iraq,” UNDP, UNICEF, World Health Organization, UNOPS, April 2012.

[2] Response to Monitor questionnaire by email from Siraj Barzani, Director General, IKMAA, 3 August 2011.

[3] iMMAP , “Landmine Impact Survey: The Republic of Iraq, 2004–2006,” Washington, DC, August 2007, p. 88.

[4] Article 7 Report, Form C, 31 July 2008.

[5] “Iraq: 640 landmines of former army found in Wassit,” Shia News, 12 March 2011, http://en.aswataliraq.info/(S(44jqohfhm5idl545e53agiza))/Default1.aspx?page=article_page&id=141426&l=1.

[6] UNICEF/UNDP, “Overview of Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War in Iraq,” June 2009, p. 10.

[7] Landmine Action, “Explosive remnants of war and mines other than anti-personnel mines,” London, March 2005, p. 86.

[8] Telephone interview with Kent Paulusson, Senior Mine Action Advisor for Iraq, UNDP, 28 July 2011.

[9] Zana Kaka, “IRAQ: Saving lives of returnees in Dohuk,” MAG, 28 May 2010, www.maginternational.org.

[10] Response to Cluster Munition Monitor questionnaire by Mark Thompson, Country Programme Manager, MAG, 23 July 2011.

[11] “Turkish troops’ incursion may raise tensions,” Associated Press, 16 June 2010, www.guardian.co.uk; “Two killed in Iranian artillery shell on [sic] Iraq’s Kurdistan region,” Xinhua, 25 July 2011, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2011-07/25/c_131008361.htm.

[13] Medact, “Continuing collateral damage: the health and environmental effects of war on Iraq,” London, 11 November 2003, p. 3, www.ippnw.org; and Landmine Action, “Explosive remnants of war and mines other than anti-personnel mines,” London, March 2005, pp. 86–88.

[14] “Depleted Uranium,” Written Answer to the House of Commons by Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, Hansard, 22 July 2010, www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100722/text/100722w0001.htm.

[15] Martin Chulov, “Iraq littered with high levels of nuclear and dioxin contamination, study finds,” The Guardian, 22 January 2010, www.guardian.co.uk.

[16] Email from Siraj Barzani, IKMAA, 30 July 2012.

[17] Interview with Kent Paulusson, UNDP, in Geneva, 27 May 2009.

[18] Emails from Kent Paulusson, UNDP, 23 and 29 August 2010.

[19] Interview with Kent Paulusson, UNDP, in Geneva, 27 May 2009.

[20] DMA, “Iraq Mine Action Strategy, 2010 to 2012,” undated but February 2010, p. 12.

[21] Email from Kent Paulusson, UNDP, 1 October 2012.

[22] Interview with Kent Paulusson, UNDP, in Geneva, 27 March 2012.

[24] Statement of Iraq to the Standing Committee on Mine Clearance, Mine Risk Education and Mine Action Technologies, Geneva, 23 May 2012.

[25] Email from Clinton Smith, Programme Manager, DDG, 26 April 2012.

[26] Email from Jamal Hussein, Acting Director General, Technical Affairs, IKMAA, 2 September 2012.

[27] Email from Niazi Argoshi, Director General, Technical Affairs, IKMAA, 13 May 2012; IKMAA, “IKMAA Service Contracts,” The Deminer Post, September−December 2011, p. 3.

[28] Email from John Kilkenny, Country Programme Director, MAG, 29 April 2012.

[29] Email from Clinton Smith, DDG, 26 April 2012.

[30] Interview with Kent Paulusson, UNDP, in Geneva, 27 March 2012.

[31] Emails from Simon Porter, ERW Programme Manager, Majnoon Field Development, Shell EP International Ltd, 25 and 31 July 2012.

[34] Email from Niazi Argoshi, IKMAA, 13 May 2012; and email from Jamal Hussein, IKMAA, 2 September 2012.

[35] Email from Niazi Argoshi, IKMAA, 13 May 2012.

[36] Email from Jamal Hussein, IKMAA, 2 September 2012.

[37] Email from Fatumah Ibrahim, Chief, Child Protection, UNICEF, 17 August 2010.

[38] Email from Niazi Argoshi, IKMAA, 13 May 2012

[39] Email from Kristine Peduto, Chief, Child Protection, UNICEF Iraq, 5 October 2012.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.