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Country Reports
NORTHERN IRAQ (IRAQI KURDISTAN), Landmine Monitor Report 2000
LM Report 2000 Full Report   Executive Summary   Key Findings   Key Developments   Translated Country Reports


Key developments since March 1999: As of May 2000, the UN reports nearly 3.1 square kilometers of land cleared and returned to productive use, impacting forty-nine villages. The survey program has conducted a socio-economic impact survey of 95% of the villages in the three northern governorates. Supplies and funds valued at about $8 million were provided for mine action from April-October 1999. The UN in mid-2000 expressed concern about incidences of freshly laid mines being found in previously cleared minefields.

Mine Ban Treaty

The region of northern Iraq has been autonomous from Baghdad since the 1991 Gulf War. Northern Iraq is under the nominative political leadership of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), an entity comprised primarily by the two major Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). There is no formal diplomatic recognition of the KRG, the KDP, or PUK.

As regional, informally recognized entities, neither the KRG nor the major parties have signed the Mine Ban Treaty. However, the leadership in northern Iraq has maintained a long-standing opposition to the employment of landmines due to the debilitating effect they have had in the region. Leaders of both the KDP and PUK, in similarly worded letters to the UN Secretary General, have committed to ensuring that the principles and obligations of the Mine Ban Treaty are realized. The letter from Masoud Barzani, President of the KDP, was dated 3 October 1999 and the letter from Jalal Talabani, PUK General Secretary, was dated 26 January 2000.

Mr. Jalal Talabani, General Secretary of the PUK, told Landmine Monitor that the KRG, “were it to be allowed, would have no hesitation in ratifying the [Mine Ban] treaty unconditionally.”[1] He said the PUK has foresworn the use of landmines, but also notes that some mines remain in place “given our precarious situation, and our vulnerability to attack. We do not use them for offensive purposes, for we have none.” Mr. Talabani stated that the PUK does not “in any way, shape, or form stockpile landmines.”[2] Dilshad Miran, the London representative of the KDP told Landmine Monitor last year, “We are totally against landmines in all their forms.”[3]

Recent Use

There is credible evidence that landmines were used in northern Iraq during past periods of factional fighting, but there is no evidence of recent use of antipersonnel mines by the KDP or PUK. However, it appears that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continues to use antipersonnel mines in northern Iraq.

Since 1991 there has been sporadic fighting in the region that has involved the KDP, PUK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Iraqi military, and the Turkish military. The PKK maintains operational bases in northern Iraq from which it has in the past launched cross-border operations into Turkey, resulting in incursions by Turkish military forces.[4] KDP and Turkish forces are often allied in operations against the PKK.[5] This situation has generated frequent accusations of landmine use by the PKK. On 17 July 1999, the Voice of Iraqi Kurdistan radio claimed that the PKK emplaced landmines in July along roads in the Chaman border area. A local man was reported injured by one of these mines.[6] The Turkish General Staff reports that between 1994 and present nearly 15,000 landmines have been seized from PKK bases, primarily located in northern Iraq.[7]

A United Nations report in June 2000 noted that the UN Office for Project Services “remains concerned about the incidences of freshly laid mines being found in previously cleared minefields.”[8] The report does not identify the user of mines.

Landmine Problem

Northern Iraq remains one of the more heavily mined areas in the world. Huge numbers of mines were employed in the region by the Iraqi Army in 1980-88 during the Iran-Iraq War.[9] According to surveys conducted by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) and the British NGO Mines Advisory Group (MAG), more than 470 square kilometers of land is mined in the region, affecting approximately 1,500 villages in the three northern governorates of Dohuk, Erbil and Suleymaniyah. Mines have been placed in locations that affect roads, power lines, agricultural land, former Iraqi military barracks, and villages vacated and destroyed by Iraqi forces during the Anfal Campaigns of the late 1980s.[10]

Landmines take their heaviest toll on rural people, farmers, herders, those gathering firewood, and children.[11] Internally displaced Kurds are unable to return to villages destroyed during the Anfal Campaigns, thus hampering resettlement and reconstruction.

No Iraqi records of minefields are available to the Mine Action Program (MAP) in northern Iraq. MAP reports a total of more than 3,200 mined areas in the region,[12] with the greatest concentration of mines along the Iran-Iraq border, specifically in the districts of Penjwin, Sharbazher and Qaladiza.[13] Other mined areas include former Iraqi military installations, destroyed villages, grazing/agricultural areas, and roads.[14] However, the primary impact of landmines in northern Iraq is upon villages currently inhabited, or those de-populated during Anfal.

Mine Action Coordination

The General Directorate for Mine Clearing, affiliated with the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Cooperation of the KRG, is the primary local authority office charged with humanitarian mine action activities in northern Iraq. The KRG, KDP and PUK work closely with UN organizations and local and international NGOs. Current initiatives include exploring avenues of promoting capacity building within the KRG administration so that, with time, all responsibility for such programs can be handed over to KRG partners.

Since late August 1997 the United Nations Office for Project Services has managed and executed the Mine Action Program in northern Iraq under UN Security Council Resolution 986 Food for Oil Program. The MAP mission is to conduct landmine/UXO surveys, marking and clearance using manual, explosive detecting dog (EDD) and mechanical methods. The MAP also supports a network of medical facilities for treatment and rehabilitation of victims, and provides mine awareness training to UN staff in northern Iraq.[15]

The MAP is one of the largest employers in northern Iraq. Staff includes 1,230 local and forty-eight expatriates. Through grants and other forms of cooperation with local partners, MAP supports the employment of an additional 666 local humanitarian staff. UNOPS estimates the impact of MAP upon the local economy is between $600,000 and $800,000 per month through salaries and local materiel procurement.[16]

Mines Advisory Group has been operating continuously in northern Iraq since 1992, longer than any other international humanitarian mine action organization. MAG has conducted mine awareness, clearance, marking, survey, and explosive ordnance disposal operations.[17]

Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) began operating in northern Iraq in 1995 in Suleymaniyah Governorate. During 1999 NPA mine action capacity in northern Iraq was comprised of one explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) team and two demining teams.[18]

Numerous local NGOs are active in the mine action arena in northern Iraq. The table below provides an overview of these organizations[19]:

Primary Mission
Landmine Clearance
Swedish International Development Agency, Kurdish expatriate community
Kurdish Mine Removal Society (KMRS)
Landmine Clearance
Private donors inside northern Iraq and in Sweden
Kurdish Humanitarian Mine Clearance Organization (KHMCO)
Landmine Clearance,
not yet operational
Local authorities
Kurdish Life Support (KLA)
Victim Assistance, Survey
KLA UK, European Community Humanitarian Organization (ECHO), SCR 986, UN HABITAT, UNICEF

Mine Action Funding

Primary funding for UNOPS mine action in northern Iraq is provided by the UN Oil for Food Program. Established by UNSC Resolution 986 as “a temporary measure to provide for the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people,” the Security Council has continued the program in 180-day periods. The program began in 1997, and Phase VI ended on 20 November 1999.[20]

As of 31 October 1999, supplies and funds for the mine clearance program valued at $18.5 million had arrived in the three northern governorates since the start of the program, of which $16 million had been utilized or distributed.[21] Approximately $8 million of those totals was provided and utilized in the period from April-October 1999.[22]

NPA received approximately $1 million in funding for programs in northern Iraq from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Affairs.[23]

Funding for Handicap International/Belgium (HI) victim assistance programs in northern Iraq comes primarily from UNOPS and UNICEF. In 1999 HI received $185,000 from UNOPS, as well as $53,000 from Belgium’s Direction Générale de la Coopération Internationale (General Directorate for the International Cooperation, DGCI) and $40,000 from the Netherlands’ Stichting Vluchteling. A total of $529,000 has been requested for programs during 2000.

MAG, like many other NGOs, is unable to access funding under Resolution 986. MAG's sources of funding include SIDA, DFID, Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, Stichting Vluchteling, Anti-Landmijn Stichting, and SCIAF. In part due to the political situation, funding is increasingly unsure.

Surveys and Assessment

As of May 2000 UNOPS reports that an extensive database of mined areas has been developed for northern Iraq. The goal of this database is to facilitate more efficient planning, prioritization and allocation of resources. The survey program has trained local socio-economic impact surveyors, and has conducted a socio-economic impact survey of 95% of the villages in the three northern governorates. Results of the survey indicate more than 3,200 mined areas, covering approximately 491 square kilometers of land needed for resettlement or agricultural use, or the development of basic infrastructure including electricity, water and reconstruction. A database has been established to record information pertaining to mined areas and mine incidents. This database is available to local authorities, UN agencies, and NGOs. The UNOPS MAP has trained and deployed twenty-four landmine/UXO socio-economic impact survey teams, and eight Level Two Survey teams. [24]

MAG set up and ran an in-country survey, community-based data gathering and database from 1992. This has become the DCU (Data Co-ordination Unit) which has records of over 3,700 minefield reconnaissance/surveys for over 750 of the most heavily mine- and UXO-contaminated areas. This information was opened to NPA when it arrived in 1996 and to UNOPS in 1997 which set up its own data recording system. MAG's data has been complemented as teams region-wide have completed surveys, demarcation and clearance programs. Since the early days, MAG has been operating survey and demarcation teams to help identify suspect areas and make available more land for farming through ‘area reduction.’ Between 1992 and 1996, MAG conducted what was probably the largest minefield marking program in the world: MAG has so far demarcated 1,150 minefields covering some 110 million square metres.[25]

Mine Clearance

The UNOPS MAP in northern Iraq conducts the Level Two (Technical) Survey, area reduction, marking, and clearance. The MAP has identified twenty-five types of landmines in the region, with Valmarra 69 bounding and VS 50 antipersonnel mines the most common.[26]

Primary contractors supporting MAP are European Landmine Solutions (ELS) and Mechem. ELS operations in northern Iraq began in January 1998. ELS is working to develop and expand indigenous capacity for long term mine clearance. By early 1999 ELS had recruited, trained and deployed survey and demining teams, together with section and team leaders and medical support staff, and had integrated explosive detection dogs into the operations. The company now manages a program with over 800 local and 18 international staff members.[27]

Mechem, a South African demining firm, is providing explosive detecting dog support to the MAP. Mechem began operations in 1998 with six dogs, and currently employs twenty-four dogs and twelve handlers. The primary duties of Mechem include support to Level Two survey teams and quality assurance of areas cleared by ELS. Mechem is also training local dog/handler teams. The first locally-trained teams are expected to become operational in August 2000.[28]

MAP mine clearance teams are currently working in twenty-five minefields, having returned twenty-four to productive use. Selection of minefields to be cleared is done in close cooperation with local authorities and other humanitarian sectors to ensure proper prioritization. Priorities for clearance are: land needed for resettlement; settled land producing high numbers of victims; agricultural land; areas necessary for basic needs, such as water and fuel; land needed for reconstruction and infrastructure development.[29]

As of May 2000 the MAP reports 3,088,215 square meters of land cleared and returned to productive use. A total of 1,905,973 square meters of land have been technically surveyed and prepared for follow-on clearance operations. MAP reports that 2,367 landmines and 5,137 pieces of UXO were destroyed. Forty-nine villages with a combined population of approximately 2,600 have been positively impacted by these clearance efforts.[30]

The MAP has trained 596 local deminers who are currently working in fifteen clearance teams. Twenty explosive detecting dogs and handler counterparts have been trained, with forty additional teams expected to complete training by August 2000.[31]

MAG has been conducting mine clearance operations since early 1993. MAG currently employs over 600 local staff and has built capacity to such a degree that expatriate supervision is now at a very limited level. MAG operates 17 Mine Action Teams across the region. These Mine Action Teams are multi-skilled and highly mobile and flexible, they can be split into sub-teams where necessary to work small urgent tasks, or built together to conduct larger clearance work. In 1999, 18 minefields were cleared; 1,191,081 square meters were declared safe; nearly 5,000 mines were destroyed. Since 1992, MAG has declared safe over 4 million square meters of land from mines and UXO.[32]

NPA reports that during 1999 a total 552 antipersonnel mines and 65 UXO were removed and destroyed by manual demining effort. 171,845 sq.meters of land including that of area reduction (73,318) cleared. Seven priority minefields were cleared and handed over to the local population in the target area. As part of explosive ordnance disposal efforts, 20,211 UXO, 216 antipersonnel mines, and two antitank mines were removed and destroyed. 2,753,796 square meters of land cleared through battle area clearance. The work covered 45 villages in the area.[33]

Regarding PUK capabilities to enact mine action themselves, Mr. Talabani stated, “We simply do not have the capacity, in terms of manpower or expertise, to undertake this ourselves.” But he noted that the PUK assists the UN organizations and international mine action NGOs in planning and implementing programs. Mr. Talabani also decried the inability to import state-of-the-art mine clearance technology and machinery. He said, “The fact that the international community fails to act to counter the restrictions upon our access to effective and safe mine-clearing technology is an international shame.”[34]

Mine Awareness Education

Most known mined areas in the region are marked either by signs or by strips of wire placed along the mine-affected area.[35] The UNOPS MAP provides mine awareness training for UN staff in northern Iraq.

MAG is the primary provider of mine awareness training to the population of northern Iraq. MAG pioneered and continues in northern Iraq the ‘Child to Child’ approach as applied to mine awareness, involving children passing on mine awareness messages to their peers. MAG also operates 8 Education/Teacher Training Teams which are achieving the integration of mine awareness into the Education Departments' school curriculum. 2,500 primary school teachers have so far been trained to pass on the message. School instructors and supervisors have also been trained. MAG also runs five Religious Representative Teams which work with the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs and over 500 local Mullahs to bring mine risk education to those adult male populations at risk from mines. A further Farsi-speaking team runs mine awareness around Hajihomoran where Kurdish refugees continue to repatriate from Iran - their children have never been to their homelands and are specially at risk.[36]

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.[37] During 1999, MAG mine awareness teams provided training and visits as shown below:[38]

Number Visited
Collective Villages/Nomadic Group (Mine Awareness Teams)
Schools, Institutes, Returnees, Refugees (Mine Awareness Teams)
Villages and Schools (Education Teams)
Mosques (Religious Representative Teams)
Monitoring Visits (Religious Representative Teams)
Commune Workshops (Religious Representative Teams)
Training Departments (Religious Representative Teams)
Schools, Departments, Institutes (Teacher Training Teams)
Follow-up Visits to Schools (Teacher Training Teams)
Teacher/Supervisor Workshops (Teacher Training Teams)

Victim Assistance

According to data provided by the UNOPS MAP socio-economic survey, a total of 9,289 victims have been injured or killed by landmines in northern Iraq since 1980. MAP provides assistance to established prosthetics centers and victim workshops, and assists in the establishment of new assistance facilities. Through twelve first aid posts, MAP supports regional trauma centers that are the first stop for landmine victims following injury.[39]

According to PUK General Secretary Talabani, “The local hospitals have developed capabilities and expertise to deal with the problem, but I emphasize that this remains limited, relative to the scale and urgency of the problem we face in the region.”[40] Limited ability to import necessary medical equipment and medicines, as well as lack of access by Kurdish doctors to international medical developments, are great obstacles to development of indigenous victim assistance capacity.

HI is providing orthopedic support to war victims in Suleymaniyah and Halabja. The purpose of the program is to enhance and expand the quality and coverage of existing ortho-prosthetic and physiotherapeutic services for disabled people. HI has been active in Suleymaniyah since 1991 in response to the large number of amputees identified there, primarily victims of numerous landmine incidents along the Iranian border. Because of ongoing conflict, and lack of access to prosthetic centers in Baghdad, these victims did not have access to proper care.[41]

HI has identified the need for wider rehabilitation services, and development of orthotics production and advocacy/social rehabilitation of the disabled are current priorities. The Ministry of Public Health in Suleymaniyah, the Rozh Society for Disabled People and the Handicapped Union (local NGOs) are favored partners for development of holistic approaches to rehabilitation of the disabled in the regions.[42]

The first HI orthopedic workshop was the Vincent Orthopedic Workshop located in Suleymaniyah in facilities provided by the local health department. Opened in 1991, this workshop produces below-knee and above-knee prostheses, as well as some ortho-prostheses. It also produces crutches, walking aids and orthotics. Since 1991, more than 3,900 prostheses and 900 orthotics have been delivered, and more than 4,000 devices have been repaired or inspected. More than 2,000 pairs of crutches have been produced and delivered.[43]

The second workshop supported by HI is the Halabja Prosthetic Limb Center located in the town of Halabja near the Iranian border. The workshop produces below-knee and above-knee permanent prostheses, as well as some orthotics. Since re-opening in March 1998, with funding assistance from UNOIP, more than 350 disabled persons have received long-term care through orthopedic activities at this workshop. This funding also supported renovation of the facility, purchase of equipment and training for staff.[44]


[1] Interview with Mr. Jalal Talabani, General Secretary, PUK, 25 June 2000.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Landmine Monitor 1999 interview, 9 January 1999.
[4] “Iraq condemns Turkish attack,” BBC News, 6 December 1999.
[5] “Turkey continues anti-Kurdish raid in N. Iraq,” BBC News, 8 December 1997.
[6] News Archive, Stratford-Iraq, 17 July 1999, http:// www.stratfor.com /meaf/news/an990717.htm.
[7] "Almost All the Land Mines Used by the PKK Are Italian," Milan Il Giornale in Italian, 1 July 1999, p. 10.
[8] UN Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General pursuant to paragraph 5 of Security Council resolution 1281 (1999), S/2000/520, 1 June 2000, p. 13. The report addresses distribution of humanitarian supplies throughout Iraq.
[9] U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, 1998, p. 97.
[10] Norwegian People’s Aid, “Mine Action Proposal 2000,” p. 7.
[11] Ibid.
[12] UNOPS, “Executive Summary, UNOPS Mine Action Program in Northern Iraq,” June 2000.
[13] Norwegian People’s Aid, “Mine Action Proposal 2000,” p. 7.
[14] UNOPS, “Executive Summary, UNOPS Mine Action Program in Northern Iraq,” June 2000.
[15] Ibid.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Mines Advisory Group, “Activities Summary, 1st January 1993 – 31st January 2000.”
[18] Norwegian People’s Aid, “Mine Action Proposal 2000,” p. 4.
[19] Correspondence from Mr. Sayed Aqa, Field Director, Survey Action Center, February 2000.
[20] United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme, “Oil for Food – The Basic Facts,” June 2000.
[21] United Nations Office of the Iraq Programme, “180 Day Report of the Secretary General to the Security Council (Phase VI),” paragraph 107.
[22] Ibid. Also, UN Office of the Iraq Programme, “180 Day Report requested by SCR 1210 (S/1999/573) (Phase V),” paragraph 104.
[23] Correspondence from Norwegian People’s Aid, June 2000.
[24] UNOPS, “Executive Summary, UNOPS Mine Action Program in Northern Iraq,” June 2000.
[25] Information provided via email by Tim Carstairs, Communications Director, MAG, 27 July 2000.
[26] Ibid.
[27] European Landmine Solutions, http://www.landmine-solutions.com/operations.htm.
[28]Correspondence from Mr. Sayed Aqa, Field Director, Survey Action Center, February 2000.
[29] UNOPS, “Executive Summary, UNOPS Mine Action Program in Northern Iraq,” June 2000.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Information provided via email by Tim Carstairs, Communications Director, MAG, 27 July 2000.
[33] Norwegian People’s Aid, “Mine Action Proposal 2000,” p. 7 with additional information provided by NPA via email on 31July 2000.
[34] Interview with Mr. Jalal Talabani, General Secretary, PUK, 25 June 2000.
[35] Gilles Paris, “The Sanctuary Of Iraqi Kurdistan,” Le Monde, 19 December 1998.
[36] Information provided via email by Tim Carstairs, Communications Director, MAG, 27 July 2000.
[37] U.S. Department of State, Hidden Killers: The Global Landmine Crisis, 1998, p. 97.
[38] Mines Advisory Group, “Activities Summary, 1st January 1993–31st January 2000.”
[39] UNOPS, “Executive Summary, UNOPS Mine Action Program in Northern Iraq,” June 2000.
[40] Interview with Mr. Jalal Talabani, General Secretary, PUK, 25 June 2000.
[41] Correspondence from Handicap International, Belgium, June 2000.
[42] Ibid.
[43] Ibid.
[44] Ibid.