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Landmines in Iraq: Questions and Answers

Does Iraq have a problem with uncleared landmines?

Iraq is severely affected by mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) as a result of the 1991 Gulf War, the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War, two decades of internal conflict, and even World War Two. Landmines and UXO pose a problem in the north, along the Iran-Iraq border, and throughout the central and southern regions of the country. The number of mines planted in Iraq is not known.

The greatest concentration of mines in northern Iraq is located along the Iran-Iraq border, specifically in the districts of Penjwin, Sharbazher, and Qaladiza. A recently completed Landmine Impact Survey confirmed that all twenty-five districts in the three provinces (governorates) comprising northern Iraq are mine-affected, and 3,444 distinct areas suspected of mine and/or UXO contamination affect over 148,000 families (more than one in five) living in 1,096 mine-affected communities.

Very little is known about the impact of uncleared mines and UXO on local communities in the rest of Iraq. In one of the only surveys conducted on the problem in the rest of the country, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in 2001 identified cluster bombs and other UXO as the main threat to communities living in southern Iraq.

How many mine casualties are there in Iraq?

Information on Iraqi mine and UXO casualties is very hard to obtain, but casualties continue in 2002. In northern Iraq, an estimated average of thirty mine and UXO casualties per month was reported in 2001. In the rest of Iraq in 2001 at least twenty-one people were killed or injured in reported mine/UXO incidents, including nineteen children. But this figure was obtained from media reports and many mine incidents are believed to go unreported. Another indicator of casualties is found in victim assistance information; in 2001, Iraqi centers supported by the ICRC manufactured 1,168 prostheses for mine survivors. In 2000, UN peacekeepers on the Iraq-Kuwait border treated eighty-seven people injured by mines and UXO. In Iraq, care for landmine survivors is believed to be minimal. The ICRC initiated an orthopedic program in 1993 that includes prosthetic/orthotic centers in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, and Najef in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.

Is there any mine clearance in Iraq?

Only in northern Iraq, where humanitarian mine action programs are conducted in the northern provinces or governerates of Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, and Dohuk. It is estimated that funding for mine action in northern Iraq totaled about $80 million from 1993 to 2001. The Iraq Mine Action Program, under the jurisdiction of the United Nations, is funded entirely through the UN Oil for Food Program, which started in 1997. The MAP expended over $28 million in 2001, and approximately $20 million in 2000. From 1998 to mid-2002, over 9.7 million square meters of land were cleared under the UN Mine Action Program. During that period, clearance teams working under the MAP destroyed over 9,600 antipersonnel and antivehicle mines and over 45,400 UXO. Two key mine action NGOs, Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), receive funds apart from the UN program, totaling about $2.4 million in 2001. In 2001, MAG and NPA cleared more than 1 million square meters of land. Mine clearance efforts in the rest of the country remain unknown. There is no information regarding efforts by Iraq's army to clear mined areas under its control.

What is Iraq's position on the landmine ban?

Iraq has not acceded to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty nor has it joined other treaties that regulate the use of landmines. Iraq has not made any statement on the issue since 1997, when its ambassador to the UN urged the Conference on Disarmament to launch negotiations for a global landmine ban. Iraq has been both a producer and an exporter of landmines and is believed to still possess a significant stockpile of mines. While there are no indications that export activity continues, Iraq is the only known mine exporter in the world that has not instituted an export ban or moratorium, or at least made a policy declaration of no current export. Iraq began producing mines in the 1970s but there is no current evidence that mines are still rolling off production lines.

Has Iraq used mines?

The Army of Iraq used mines in Kuwait in 1990-1991, during the Iraq-Iran War both inside Iraq and in Iran, and during internal conflicts, especially in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. Mines laid by Iraq in northern Iraq and in Kuwait, or found in Iraqi stocks, came from countries including: Belgium, Canada, Chile, China, Egypt, France, Italy, Romania, Singapore, the former Soviet Union and the U.S.

Did the United States use mines in Iraq in 1991?

The U.S. used 117,634 landmines in Iraq and Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War. Of these, 27,967 were antipersonnel mines and 89,667 were antivehicle mines. U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aircraft used Gator cluster bomb units to deliver these mines, while the Marine Corps used a small number of artillery-delivered mines. A recently study by the U.S. General Accounting Office cited reluctance among some U.S. commanders to use mines because of their impact on mobility, fratricide potential, and safety concerns.

How many U.S. troops were killed or injured by mines during the 1991 Gulf War?

Landmines were identified as the cause of eighty-one U.S. military casualties during the Gulf War. Landmines also caused twenty-two other U.S. military casualties (two killed, twenty injured) elsewhere between 1990 and 2001 (two in Egypt, ten in Germany, seven in South Korea, and three in the U.S.). To date, mines have killed one and wounded six U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan.

Will the U.S. use mines again in Iraq?

The last time the U.S. used antipersonnel mines was in the Gulf War in 1991 and according to a study recently released by the General Accounting Office, the Bush Administration is reported to be reviewing war plans that include plans for the use of mines. The Pentagon has said it "retains the right to use landmines." The U.S. stockpiles approximately 90,000 antipersonnel mines in the Persian Gulf region in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Diego Garcia, a territory of the United Kingdom in the Indian Ocean. The antipersonnel mines currently stored there are the same types used in 1991: the ADAM (stored in Qatar, Diego Garcia, and possibly Kuwait), Gator (stored in Qatar, Diego Garcia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and possibly Kuwait), and smaller amounts of Volcano and MOPMS mines (both stored in Kuwait).

What about mine use by U.S. allies, such as the United Kingdom, who have joined the ban?

While the U.S. has not joined the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, nearly all of its military allies and NATO partners have done so including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Qatar, and the United Kingdom. These countries would reject any orders to use antipersonnel mines and place limitations on their forces so as not to violate their treaty commitments during these joint operations. Human Rights Watch views participation in joint operations with an armed force that uses antipersonnel mines as being clearly against the spirit of the Mine Ban Treaty, and possibly a violation of the treaty obligation not to assist in any way with the use of antipersonnel mines by anyone else. Human Rights Watch calls on Mine Ban Treaty States Parties to insist that non-signatories like the U.S. do not use antipersonnel mines and to refuse to take part in any joint operations if antipersonnel mines are actually used.

What will the impact be on the mine ban movement if the U.S. uses mines in Iraq?

The use of antipersonnel mines by the U.S. in Iraq would certainly be a setback to the overall movement to eradicate the weapon. It would reverse the positive steps the U.S. has taken in the past decade to ban antipersonnel mines, which has been an objective of the U.S. since 1994; it would likely be the death knell of the existing U.S. policy goal of joining the Mine Ban Treaty by 2006. New U.S. mine use would also undermine efforts to fully implement and universalize the Mine Ban Treaty by providing justification for other holdout states to use, produce, or export these indiscriminate weapons. The U.S. supplied antipersonnel mines to more than three-dozen countries in the past. U.S.-manufactured mines have been planted in the ground and caused civilian casualties in more than two-dozen countries.

December 2002