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Last Updated: 29 October 2014

Mine Action

Contamination and Impact

Overall Mine Action Performance: POOR[1]

Performance Indicator


Problem understood


Target date for completion of clearance


Targeted clearance


Efficient clearance


National funding of program


Timely clearance


Land release system


National mine action standards


Reporting on progress


Improving performance





The Republic of Iraq is massively contaminated with landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), including cluster munitions, left by internal conflicts, the 1980–1988 war with Iran, the 1991 Gulf War, the 2003 invasion by the United States (US)-led Coalition, and the violence that has persisted ever since the subsequent outbreak of insurgency.

Iraq is believed to be one of the world’s most heavily mined countries but is still working to produce a comprehensive estimate of the extent of the problem. Available data does not distinguish between mines and ERW.

A landmine impact survey (Iraq LIS) 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 1.6 million people. Survey of the remaining five governorates was completed in 2010, but the findings have not been released. However, non-technical survey (NTS) of the northern governorates of Erbil and Dohuk identified confirmed hazardous areas (CHAs) totaling 70km2, 84% less than the estimated size of the SHAs (450km2) identified in these areas by the ILIS.[2]

Iraq’s Article 7 transparency report for 2013 estimated contamination totaling 1,838km2 based on varying degrees of survey. This included 1,207km2 of mined area in the six central and southern provinces (Basra, Diyyala, Kirkuk, Missan, Muthanna, and Wassit) and another 311km2 of SHA based on the ILIS. However, according to an introduction to the report, NTS of three southern governorates alone had found contamination totaling 1,456km2. They included Basrah (1,273km2), Missan (71km2), and Wassit (112km2).[3]

In northern Iraq’s four Kurdish governorates, the Article 7 report records 96km2 of CHA and almost 224km2 of contamination identified by what it termed “preliminary technical survey,” a form of enhanced NTS intended to provide more precise data on contaminated areas.[4]

Cluster munition remnants

Submunition contamination is significant but the extent is unknown. A UNDP/UNICEF report in 2009 commented that the highway between Kuwait and Basra was heavily targeted by cluster bomb strikes in the 1991 Gulf War.[5] 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.[6]

Non-technical surveys of five central-southern governorates recorded a total of 173.1km2 of cluster munition contamination heavily concentrated in Muthanna (121.9km2) with lesser amounts in Thi Qar (40.3km2), Basrah (10.4km2), Nissan (0.17km2), and Wassit (0.98km2). Operators report clearing BLU-61, -63, and -97 and PM1 and Mk118 submunitions along with M42 dual-purpose munitions.[7]

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.[8] 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.[9] Little data is available on either the location or the results of cluster munitions clearance in 2013.

Cluster munition remnants are a feature of many of the clearance tasks being undertaken to open up access to oilfields and develop infrastructure as well as for humanitarian clearance.[10] However, a lack of reporting on the location or results of clearance operations leaves uncertain the extent of any progress in addressing Iraq’s contamination.

Other explosive remnants of war

Iraq has extensive unexploded ordnance (UXO) remaining from past conflicts and continues to accumulate contamination from continuing conflicts in the north, where Iranian and Turkish aircraft and artillery have bombarded areas suspected to house Kurdish non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in 2010 and 2011.[11]

Moreover, since 2010 Iraqi civilians have run the gauntlet of escalating improvised explosive device (IED) detonations. The UN reported 1,057 Iraqis were killed and 2,326 were wounded in attacks in July 2013, at that time the highest monthly casualty figures since 2008.[12] In 2014, the UN reported that IEDs were placed in the vicinity of schools and hospitals causing damage to them.[13]

Non-technical surveys of five governorates reported 249.5km2 of battlefield and UXO contamination mainly in Basrah (127.3km2), Wassit (61km2), Thi Qar (31.1km2), and Nissan (27km2).[14]

UXO contamination includes a variety of munitions, including air-dropped bombs and rockets, ground artillery, grenades, mortars, napalm, and depleted uranium (DU) ordnance, including “bunker-buster” bombs and tank-fired shells used by US and British forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[15] Britain acknowledged in 2010 that it used 1.9 metric tonnes of DU ammunition during the 2003 war.[16] 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 scrapyards around Baghdad and Basra and which was reported in a joint study by the ministries of health, environment, and science.[17]

Mine Action Program

Mine action in Iraq has two distinct components. In northern governorates under the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), mine action is managed by the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency (IKMAA), which in 2012 united with the General Directorate of Mine Action (GDMA). In central and southern Iraq, responsibility for mine action was transferred in 2008 to the Ministry of Environment, which set up a Directorate of Mine Action (DMA) to replace the National Mine Action Authority that had been attached to the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation but had become inactive and was closed down by the government in mid-2007.[18]

The DMA is responsible for planning, accreditation, project coordination, prioritizing tasks, setting standards, quality management, and managing a mine action database. The DMA is supported by a Regional Mine Action Center in Basra, which is intended to coordinate mine action in the south.[19] However, the DMA’s role has been weakened by the lack of any legislation or regulatory framework establishing its mandate. Other issues that the mine action community identifies as obstacles to effective planning, management, and regulation of the sector include the division of responsibilities between different ministries, poor communication between ministries, the absence of a functioning mechanism for coordinating policy, and corruption.[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 was intended to create a policy framework and strategy for mine action. It was supported by a Technical Committee with the National Security Council’s Directorate for International Policy functions as its secretariat. However, in 2012 the HCMA’s functions passed to the National Security Council (NSC). The Ministry of Environment had not previously been a member of the NSC but was expected to attend meetings on mine action.[21]

Strategic planning

The DMA reports that it has prepared a draft strategic plan for 2014, but as of May 2014 the plan still awaited approval by the Supreme National Council for Mine Action. The DMA expected the strategy to be adopted by the end of 2014.[22]

The draft plan gives priority to clearance of contaminated land near population centers, agricultural land, oilfields, clearance that reduces poverty, creates employment opportunities, and promotes rural development. Operational priorities include completing NTS in all governorates by the end of 2015. The plan provides for clearance of the 10 least-contaminated governorates to be conducted mainly by civil defense units over four years to 2018 and for clearance of the five most-contaminated provinces, including those bordering Iran, to be undertaken by a combination of army demining regiments, civil defense units, and NGOs.[23]

Land Release

Comprehensive data on the results of mine clearance in Iraq are not available. In the northern Kurdish governorates, IKMAA reported release of a total of 11.6km2 of mined and battle area, of which 5.2km2 was released without clearance. In central and southern Iraq, the DMA reported clearance of 35km2 in six governorates in 2013, of which 34km2 was in Basrah, but the DMA did not specify mined or battle area clearance or the operators involved.[24]

IKMAA operated with more than 100 staff in 15 demining and three explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams, leading a sector with 17 commercial and NGO operators.[25] MAG is the largest of the NGOs with more than 189 deminers supported by mechanical assets and mine detection dogs.[26] In central and southern Iraq, clearance is conducted mostly by 19 commercial companies working on behalf of oil companies and by the army and civil defense.[27] Organizations undertaking humanitarian demining, including national operator IMCO and international NGO Danish Demining Group (DDG), engaged mainly in battle area clearance.[28]

Mine clearance in 2013

The KRG released a total of 9.81km2 of mined area in 2013, fractionally less than the previous year and releasing more through survey. IKMAA expected to accredit significant additional capacity in the north in 2014, paving the way for accelerated survey and clearance.[29] MAG cleared about half as much mined area in 2013 as the previous year, but cleared more battle area than in 2012, keeping the total amount of land it released through clearance at about the same level.[30]

The scope, results, and quality of demining in central and southern Iraq are not known. A comprehensive overview of commercial company clearance is unavailable. The army has reportedly undertaken extensive clearance on a 129km-long Shatt al-Arab irrigation waterway rated as a priority by Basrah governorate authorities, but details of the project were not publicly available.[31]

However, plans for the army to set up four regiments of deminers to conduct clearance of Iraq’s heavily contaminated border with Iran were stalled by the growing security challenge linked to reviving insurgency in central Iraq. Operators reported that the military’s preoccupation with security issues also caused delays in demolitions of cleared ERW, which only the army is authorized to conduct.[32]

Mine clearance in 2013[33]


Mine clearance (km²)

Antipersonnel mines destroyed

Antivehicle mines destroyed

UXO destroyed
















Article 5 Compliance

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 does not report comprehensively on the results of mine clearance, and incomplete reporting on clearance by operators makes it impossible to quantify accurately the extent of Iraq’s progress towards fulfilling its treaty obligations. In 2012, the Deputy Minister of Environment Kamal Latif predicted that Iraq would not meet its 2018 clearance deadline. Nothing has occurred in the two years since to challenge that conclusion.[34]

Iraq has passed the halfway mark to its initial Article 5 deadline but has yet to put in place a stable national mine action structure or with effective authority to direct, plan, or uphold the standards of mine action. The KRG’s more experienced mine action program has conducted survey and manages commercial and humanitarian clearance in the north. But in central and southern Iraq, authority over mine action is split between different ministries. The DMA and operators have made progress in conducting survey needed for planning and clearance, but many governorates remain to be surveyed and stakeholders report clearance continues without effective coordination or oversight.

Support for Mine Action

The DMA reported a budget of IQD14.56 billion (US$12.23 million)[35] in 2013, but it had no information about expenditure on mine action by the ministries of defense, oil, and industry, which conclude contracts separately with commercial demining companies that have conducted most of the clearance in recent years. The DMA’s proposed budget for 2014 was ID13.41 billion ($10.74 million).[36]

IMCO received funding of $10 million from the US Department of State in 2013. It expected to receive about a quarter less in 2014 but this reflected reduced expenditure on security and it expected funding for operations would be higher.[37] DDG received funding from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)of $1.8 million for 12 months ending by June 2014, and $2.4 million from the Department for International Development (DfID) of the United Kingdom for the 12 months to July. As of March 2014, DDG had received no further funding commitments and the program faced the possibility of closure in mid-2014.[38]


·         Iraq should present its mine action strategy detailing available capacity and its proposed deployment.

·         Iraq should complete non-technical survey of central and southern governorates, where security permits, to establish a clearer baseline estimate of the extent of the landmine threat.

·         Clarity is needed on the structure and leadership of mine action, including Iraq’s national mine action authority.

·         Mine action is bedeviled by bureaucratic blockages in government ministries and customs. Action is needed to streamline procedures for registration and accreditation of demining organizations, which can take years to complete.


[1] See “Mine Action Program Performance” for more information on performance indicators.

[2] Response to Monitor questionnaire by email from Siraj Barzani, Director General, Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency (IKMAA), 3 August 2011.

[4] Mine Ban Treaty Article 7 Report (for 2013), Form C; Mirwen Ahmad, “IKMAA Surveys Kurdistan Minefields,” The Deminer Post, IKMAA, No. 15, June 2013.

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

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

[7] Email from Bazz Jolly, Program/Operations Manager, Danish Demining Group (DDG), 17 July 2013.

[8] Zana Kaka, “IRAQ: Saving lives of returnees in Dohuk,” Mines Advisory Group (MAG), 28 May 2010.

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

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

[12] Tim Arango, “Car bombings kill scores across Iraq,” New York Times, 10 August 2013.

[13] Statement by Leila Zerrougi, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, to the UN Human Rights Council, 1 September 2014.

[14] Email from Maythem Abdullah Obead, Head, Community Liaison Department, Department of Mine Action, 13 August 2013.

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

[16]Depleted Uranium,” Written Answer to the House of Commons by Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence, Hansard, 22 July 2010.

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

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

[20] Interviews with mine action stakeholders, Geneva, 3−7 December 2012; UNICEF/UNDP, “Overview of Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War in Iraq,” June 2009, p. 29.

[21] Interview with Kent Paulusson, UNDP, in Geneva, 4 December 2012.

[22] Interview with Essa Al-Fayadh, Director General, Directorate of Mine Action, in Geneva, 5 December 2013.

[23] Iran Mine Action Strategy 2014 to 2018, Annex B, received by email from Ahmed Al-Jasim, Head of Information Management Department, DMA, 18 May 2014.

[24] Email from Ahmed Al-Jasim, DMA, 18 May 2014.

[25] Email from Khatab Ahmed, Plan Manager, IKMAA, 10 April 2014.

[26] Ibid.; and email from Jacqui Brownhill, Desk Officer for the Middle East and North Africa, MAG, 23 May 2014.

[27] Email from Ahmed Al-Jasim, DMA, 18 May 2014.

[28] DDG released 0.42km2 of battle area in 2013 clearing 1,208 items of UXO: email from Lene Rasmussen, Regional Manager Middle East and North Africa, DDG, 20 March 2014. IMCO cleared 9.38km2 of battle area, destroying 200 antipersonnel mines as well as 3,783 items of UXO: email from Rob White, Chief Operating Officer, IMCO, 10 April 2014.

[29] Emails from Khatab Ahmed, IKMAA, 10 April 2014; and Jacqui Brownhill, MAG, 23 May 2014.

[30] Email from Jacqui Brownhill, MAG, 23 May 2014.

[31] Interviews with Iraqi mine action sources in Geneva, 31 March–4 April 2014.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Email from Khatab Ahmed, IKMAA, 10 April 2014. MAG reported separately releasing 1.08km2 of mined area by clearance, destroying 1,130 antipersonnel mines, 11 antivehicle mines, and 130 items of UXO. Email from Jacqui Brownhill, MAG, 23 May 2014.

[34] “Iraq: Mine free 2018 target will be missed,” IRIN, 22 May 2012.

[35] Exchange rate of US$1=ID0.00084 as of 31 December 2013, Oanda.com.

[36]  Email from Ahmed Al-Jasim, DMA, 18 May 2014.

[37]  Email from Rob White, IMCO, 10 April 2014.

[38] Email from Lene Rasmussen, DDG, 20 March 2014.