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Country Reports
IRAQI KURDISTAN, Landmine Monitor Report 1999


Northern Iraq is one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. Millions of mines were sown in the region by the Iraqi army in the years prior to the 1991 Gulf War.[1] Northern Iraq remains under the control of two main Kurdish factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Periodic fighting between the two factions has involved the use of landmines which have occasionally hindered the distribution of United Nations relief work.[2] The region has been autonomous from Baghdad since the 1991 Gulf War when the United States set up a “safe haven” for Iraq’s Kurdish population. There is no formal diplomatic recognition of Iraqi Kurdistan or the KDP or PUK.

With no international recognition, neither faction has been able to sign the Mine Ban Treaty. However, Dilshad Miran, the London representative of the KDP said, “We are totally against landmines in all their forms.... They destroy people’s lives in the region and hinder reconstruction.”[3]

Recent Use

There is credible evidence that landmines continue to be used in northern Iraq, albeit on a limited scale during the periods of factional fighting that have engulfed the region. Since 1991 there has been sporadic fighting in the region which has involved the KDP, PUK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Iraqi military and the Turkish military. In 1997, for example, the PUK laid antitank mines along the road stretching through the Balisan valley to halt the advance of the Turkish tanks.[4] According to UN representatives mines have also been laid between the frontlines of the KDP and PUK after clashes.[5]

The situation has been complicated by the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq. The PKK uses the Iraqi border as a base to launch assaults against Turkey and regularly clashes with the KDP. Fighting for Kurdish autonomy in southeastern Turkey, the PKK presence has repeatedly brought the Turkish military into the region. The KDP have accused the PKK of laying mines in the region; reports have suggested that the roads between Sarsang and Amadiyah have been mined by the PKK.[6] The majority of reports of new use revolve around mines allegedly laid by the PKK in the border region which have hindered Turkish military operations against the PKK.[7] In May 1997, for example 12 Turkish soldiers were reportedly killed by PKK landmines in northern Iraq on the Iraqi side of the border.[8] While mines apparently continue to be used, the numbers are small compared to the vast number of mines laid by the Iraqi government, which remain the mainstay of the problem in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Landmine Problem

Large swathes of northern Iraq remain heavily mined. The U.S. State Department estimated in 1993 that there were five to ten million landmines in Iraq; by 1998 it estimated that there were ten million mines in Iraqi Kurdistan.[9] The most heavily mined area is the Halabja region along the border with Iran. Mines have been placed in a vast number of different places ranging from roads, power lines, grazing land, depopulated villages and former military barracks used by the Iraqi army. All in all there are several thousand minefields of various sizes that have been charted by agencies involved in clearance.

Landmines have prevented the return of refugees and displaced persons, particularly in the area bordering Iran. The most vulnerable people are farmers living in rural areas, livestock herders and children unaware of the dangers of mines.[10] Mines also contribute to a cycle of poverty in the region. People unable to return to their villages are forced to remain without employment in towns. The presence of mines also hampers reconstruction efforts in destroyed villages as every mine has to be cleared before villagers can return in safety. Those who do try and return to their villages are often maimed or killed by mines if the area has not been cleared.[11] If any records exist they are in the hands of the Iraqi government and are not available to outside inspection. The four governorates in Iraqi Kurdistan have respectively 1,278 minefields (Sulaymanya governorate), 549 minefields (Erbil governorate: specifically in the districts of Chorman, Soran and Merga Sor), 295 minefields (Dohuk governorate: specifically in the districts of Amedia, Duhok and Zakho), 201 minefields ( New Kirkuk governorate: specifically in the districts of Khanqin, Darbanikhan and Chamchamal).[12] The greatest concentration of mines, though, is along the Iran-Iraq border, specifically in the districts of Penjwin, Sharbazher and Qaladiza.[13] In 1993, Middle East Watch surveyed fifteen minefields where there was an absence of signs and where the minefields were located near land utilized by civilians for farming or other purposes. Shirawash, Sardekan Hill, Derband Gorge, Konyarasukosa, Nowpredam, Eenay, Pirdi Kashan, Chapazra, and Zakho are but a small sample of the minefields scattered throughout northern Iraq.[14]

Other mined areas include: former Iraqi military installations, destroyed villages, grazing/agricultural areas, and roads.[15] Of primary importance, though, are the number of villages affected by mines. According to the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), 800 villages are affected by mines, which makes up nearly 20% of the rural area in the region.[16]

MAG indicates the following landmines have been found in northern Iraq:[17]

Type Origin

T72 China

No. 4 Israel

SB33 Italy

TS50 Italy

VS69 Italy

VAR40 Italy

VS50 Italy

VST Italy

PMD6 Russia

POMZ Russia

PSM1 Russia

PMN Russia/Iraq




PROM1 Yugoslavia

Mine Clearance

Under the UN brokered deal of oil for food with Baghdad, US$16.5 million was allocated for mine clearance and surveys in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1998. The funds were earmarked for the United Nations Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is involved in mine clearance in the region.[18] A number of countries have donated mine action support funds, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.[19]

There are three agencies involved in clearing mines in northern Iraq: MAG, Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), and UNOPS. All the agencies operate with the cooperation and help of the local regional authorities - either KDP or PUK.[20]

MAG has cleared 1.2 square kilometers of land in ninety-six minefields, removing 37,000 landmines and 143,493 pieces of UXO.[21] The priority has been given to areas of habitation, transport and greatest population density. Border and uninhabited areas are given a low priority.

Although the local authorities are providing protection, threats to demining organizations exist in the region. Baghdad has demanded the withdrawal of MAG and NPA from the region, claiming the organizations are working illegally in the area. In December 1998, Iraq sent a letter to the Secretary General of the UN stating that it opposed the mine clearance because it violated Iraq’s sovereignty and national integrity, and requested that the deminers be removed.[22] Booby traps have also been attached to cars belonging to demining personnel in the region.[23]

Mine Awareness

All known mined areas in the region are marked either by signs or by strips of wire placed along the mine affected area.[24] MAG runs a mine awareness program which operates throughout the region, visiting villages, collective towns and schools. As part of this program, MAG developed a “Safer Village Strategy” which involves communities in finding nontechnical solutions to landmine problems and targets mine clearance resources to areas of greatest need.[25] MAG has worked with UNICEF and local officials to produce a mine awareness book for schools to help children identify landmines and teach them how to avoid them.[26]

Landmine Casualties and Survivor Assistance

According to MAG, a total of 5,394 people have been injured and 2,933 killed by landmines since 1991.[27] Mine casualties have been declining significantly in the region since 1991.[28] In 1998 forty people were killed and 207 were injured.[29] The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Iraqi Red Crescent run victim assistance centers and orthopedic centers in Iraqi Kurdistan. There are a variety of local hospitals where landmine victims can be treated. Hospitals are found in all major towns: Zakho, Dohuk, Salahudin, Erbil and Sulymanya. Whether the victim reaches a hospital is another matter. Those who are hurt in more rural areas tend to have a lesser chance of survival if transport is not immediately available.

Prosthetic limbs are manufactured by Handicap International (HI), which has workshops in Sulaymanya and Ranya. HI opened its Sulaymanya workshop in 1991. By April 1993, it had assessed 1740 cases and determined 950 people were injured by landmines. In that same time period, HI produced 1,206 prosthetic devices.[30] Victims receive no financial compensation from the respective regional authorities who, in any case, simply do not have the funding.


[1] Middle East Watch, Hidden Death: Landmines and Civilian Casualties in Iraqi Kurdistan, (New York: Human Rights Watch, October 1992).

[2] “UN Says Iraq Food Handouts not stopped by Raid,” Reuters, 7 December 1997.

[3] Landmine Monitor interview, 9 January 1999.

[4] Landmine Monitor interview with Jabber Farman, PUK Minister of Defence, 24 April 1998.

[5] “UN Says Iraq Food Handouts Not Stopped By Raid,” Reuters, 7 December 1997.

[6] Saadet Oruc, “Another Facet Of Iraqi Kurds,” Turkish Daily News, 9 August 1998; “Kurdish KDP Radio Says PKK Faction Burns Two Villages,” BBC Monitoring Service (Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan), 1 September 1998; “Kurdish Sources Reportedly Say PKK Gaining Strength In Barzani Areas,” Al Hayat newspaper, 27 August 1998.

[7] “Number of Bodies Of ‘Terrorists’ Found In Cross-Border Operation Now 77,” BBC Monitoring Service (source: TRT TV), 21 April 1994; Suna Erdem, “Turkey Risks Rift With NATO Over Iraq Incursion,” Reuters, 22 March 1995; Alistair Bell, “Turkey Continues Assault Kurds in Iraq,” Reuters, 22 March 1995; “Kurdish Sources Reportedly Say PKK Gaining Strength In Barzani Areas,” Al Hayat newspaper, 27 August 1998; Suna Erdem, “Turkey Risks Rift With NATO Over Iraq Incursion,” Reuters, 22 March 1995.

[8] Osman Senkul, “Turkey Presses On In North Iraq Despite Outcry,” Reuters, 20 May 1997.

[9] U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Problem with Uncleared Landmines, 1993; Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, 1998.

[10]Owen Boycott, “Heroic Volunteers Are Themselves The Target,” The Guardian, 2 March 1999; Hidden Death.

[11]Jonathon Lyons, “Nine Years On, Mines From Iran-Iraq War Still Killing,” Reuters, 26 December 1996; Dominic Evans, “Hidden Mines Haunt Kurdistan,” Reuters, 20 July 1998.

[12]Correspondence from Mines Advisory Group received by Landmine Monitor researcher.

[13]Correspondence from Mines Advisory Group received by Landmine Monitor researcher.

[14]Middle East Watch, Hidden Death: Land Mines and Civilian Casualties in Iraqi Kurdistan.

[15]Correspondence from Mines Advisory Group received by Landmine Monitor researcher.

[16]Correspondence from Mines Advisory Group received by Landmine Monitor researcher.

[17]The Common Types of Landmines in Kurdistan, The Mines Advisory Group - Northern Iraq (undated).

[18]Hassan Hafidh, “UN Tackles Mine Danger In Northern Iraq,” Reuters, 17 August 1998.

[19]Mine Action Bilateral Donor Support, database maintained by Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.

[20]“Protection For Iraqi Kurds,” Anadolu news agency, 12 January 1999.

[21]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, 1998, p. 97.

[22]“Iraq Attacks UN over Landmine Clearance in North,” BBC Worldwide Monitoring, 7 January 1999.

[23]Owen Boycott, “Heroic Volunteers Are Themselves The Target,” The Guardian, 2 March 1999.

[24]Gilles Paris, The Sanctuary Of Iraqi Kurdistan, Le Monde, 19 December 1998.

[25]Mines Advisory Group, Northern Iraq, brochure prepared by Mines Advisory Group, Cockermouth, United Kingdom, 1998.

[26]U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, 1998, p. 97.

[27]Correspondence from Mines Advisory Group to Landmine Monitor researcher.

[28]In the Sulaymanya province alone, in 1991, 338 men, 127 children and thirty women were killed compared to seventeen men, three children and one woman in 1998.

[29]Correspondence from Mines Advisory Group to Landmine Monitor researcher.

[30]Shawn Roberts and Jody Williams, After the Guns Fall Silent: The Enduring Legacy of Landmines (Washington, DC: Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, 1995), p. 259.