Iraqi Kurdish Landmine Official Discusses Clearance Programme
Text of report by Muhammad Jamal headlined: “There are more than 2,407 landmine fields in Sulaymaniyah and only 972 of them have been cleared”, published by Iraqi Kurdistan Islamic Group weekly newspaper Komal on 5 July; subheadings as published
“Landmine Awareness Directorate communication officer”
Landmines are the hazard that has claimed the life of many Kurdish citizens and it is a theme that needs to be discussed. Therefore, Komal newspaper has arranged an interview with the landmine Awareness Directorate, communication officer, Mirwan Ahmad, moreover, publishing the edited information in this article. The establishment of the Central landmine works directorate took place after the uprising in 1991, following several organizations that use to take the responsibility for landmines in Kurdistan. It was established by three of the directorate for landmine awareness, which complemented the awareness of landmine and explosives KOMA [Kurdistan Organization for Mine Awareness] as well as the technical activities to support the landmine victims. Landmine martyrs are to be counted as conflict martyrs.
Consideration has been given to considering landmine and explosive martyrs as war martyrs. It is true to say that martyrs who lost their lives cannot be compensated by anything. We have managed with the assistance of KORD [Kurdistan Organization for Retraining the Disabled] to open several courses for the disabled and try to make them feel that they have not lost their entire capabilities. The courses are six-months long and the candidates are able to select a different workshop of their choosing, in the field that they think they have neither expertise nor knowledge. The workshops are there to train them as carpenters, ironmongers, tailors or traditional cobblers. Thereafter they would enter into new workshops of two to three people together, while we assist them for an additional year and at the same time, we would be meeting all their needs. The income from the workshop work would be divided into two halves. The victims keep one half and the other half would go back to the department to cover the cost of running the course. After the trial year, they are required to depend on themselves and gradually get used to working on their own. Furthermore, they will be encouraged to have the belief that they can do the job on their own. They usually forget their disability. The villagers that are not capable of work because they are incapacitated by 100 per cent disability would be given animals, as it might be easier for them to take advantage of the animal produce.
The effort of technical activates and the work methods
Landmine clearance is contracted out to different companies in Kurdistan and they would be bidding for the contracts. The companies involved are; Ararat, Khabat Zangana, Chami Rezan and Aras Baiz. There are two ways of carrying out landmine clearing operations, Manual, which is carried out by hands, and Mechanical. The manual method is not in use as much these days unless the area is very awkward and manoeuvring is not possible. Eighty per cent of all the areas used to be cleared by hand, which means a person was carrying out the clearing by using an instrument called Mine Lap [metal detector] which is an advance machine widely used in most countries.
A metre of dirt excavated for cigarette foil
The issue with mine lap was that it used to register all type of metals and sometimes it takes more than an hour to excavate a spot, where the mine lap has showed readings and its bells rang. However, one would not be able to tell whether the instrument is indicating the whereabouts of a landmine, explosives or a nail. This process is very slow, as the readings need to be looked at all times to check if there are any mines. It is possible to clear an area covering only two to five metres in a day, therefore, sometimes it is likely that you dig the ground a metre deep and find a cigarette foil or find a landmine within 10 cm. This manual device is still in use but not as much.
How to accelerate the work?
The companies are working with armoured bulldozers and landmine suppressor machine. The machine enters into the landmine fields and digs the field up to 30 cm, which is an international standard. Then the soil would be removed and a de-miner comes and spread the soil to search for landmines, if any landmines found during the search then they would be deactivated. This method is faster than the manual method; however, the manual clearance is repeated after the machine clearance.
Dogs have saved the government money
Using dogs to look for mines are very effective and they have been playing an active role. The dogs can detect mines and explosives as well as being used in security operations. In 2007, they had 24 dogs, 18 of them were explosive detectors and six were mine detectors. The dogs are usually based in the military bases because they can detect explosives. The difference between the dogs and the Mine lap machine is that the machine detects every metal; on the other hand, the dogs only detect TNT. By using dogs, it has been possible to clear an area of 12,050 sq metres. There were an area thought to be a landmine field but the dogs proved the contrary and there were not any landmines found. Therefore, the dogs have saved the government money. The dogs usually check the landmine field clearance operations after the machines to make sure that there are no landmines left in the area. The other advantage of the dogs is that they have contributed to the security in KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] because they have been spread throughout the bases to detect intruders who have entered into our city with explosives.
There are 7m mines in KRG and Sulaymaniyah has the lion’s share
Previous Iraqi government have bought 20m landmines from four different companies in 10 different countries. From the 20m landmines Iraqi government bought, it used 7m in Kurdistan. The number of landmines has been reduced over the years and they were laid in an area of 388sq km divided between 3,150 landmine fields. Sulaymaniyah has the lion’s share of the landmines, also parts of Kirkuk and Khanaqin area near Sulaymaniyah borders. There are more than 2,407 landmine fields, which cover 222 sq km of which 927 minefields have been cleared and this covers an area of 35 to 36 sq km. Nevertheless, there are still 1,430 landmine fields which covers 186,710 sq m to be cleared.
Operations are not based on the number of the landmines cleared
We do not work on the bases of the number of landmines cleared, but we work on the bases of how many landmine fields have been cleared. Because it might take one year to clear one, field which contains only 30 landmines. Nevertheless, it would be classified as a minefield and it is also possible that some fields might contain 10000 mines.
There are 110m mines
Kurdistan and Iraq have faced many issues because of the different policies of successive powers in Iraq. They were all bad public officials and even the current one with respect for them; have not worked for the people. They entered into different wars, with Iran and Kuwait and earlier with the Kurds. Before September 11 there was a large-scale war with the Kurds as it was known as the largest struggle and lasted for a long time. During the war there have been extensive landmine laying in the border areas and the areas close to the Iraqi and Kurdish front. After the failure of 1975 landmine laying has been taking place until the eighties. Thereafter the Iraq-Iran war, which has seen the largest number of landmines laying. The issue of landmines have commenced in world war one and so far it is estimated that there are 110m landmines in different varieties in 64 countries.
Landmines were laid in the civil conflict
As a main observation which is in front of me, we do not have any evidence that landmines were laid in the conflict between PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] and KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party]. However, it is possible that they could have been left in observation posts, but officially, it was not announced. Nevertheless, during the conflict between PUK and Jund Al-Islam [Islamist group], landmines were laid unscientifically and Jund Al- Islam has laid booby traps for example they laid landmines in the middle of the roads.
Mines have claimed the lives of 14,000 victims
The number of the victims according to the latest survey is 14,000 dead and injured. There have been many interpretations of the survey and everyone talks about it differently. However, the facts confirmed are that the numbers of victims have reached 14,000.
This year the drought has increased the number of landmine victims
This year the number of landmine victims has slightly increased in comparison with previous years. This is not due to the people who provide protection services being negligent. It is also not because they did not listen to the warning massages or those massages have aged and being forgotten but the main problem was drought. Most of the victims are shepherds in need of grazing grounds for their herds. Because of the drought, they have been forced to go to areas with good grazing grounds. However, other shepherds have not used those grazing ground in years because they are dangerous landmine fields. Therefore, this has resulted in a large number of victims and disabled as well as large lose of live stock which is a national loss.
So far Arbil and Sulaymaniyah landmine agencies have not been united.
When there were two administrations, Sulaymaniyah administration has thought about establishing the Central Landmine Directorate for Mine Works, at the same time Arbil wanted to follow suit. Arbil also had directorate of landmine clearance previously and they later converted to an agency. The problem in Sulaymaniyah is that we do not have a ministry to refer back to and ask for assistance. Therefore, we have relied on the ministry of treasury and economics that have been beneficial to us; however, Arbil landmine agency is directly linked to minsters council.
They are preparing to unite the landmine agency in Arbil and mine directorate in Sulaymaniyah. All the necessary steps have been organized but it has not been possible to merge this to administration as interior ministry and treasury ministry are not able to do so. In addition, our agency had its specifics in Sulaymaniyah and Arbil.
No one else has bonuses like ours
The money we receive does not go to waste because the funding is based on putting forward proposals and later a special unit will praise the work and investigate it. The members are working in two different ways, many of them are contractors that are paid better that those employed by the government, and we hope we benefit from plans to raise wages. It has been requested that those people who run the risk of landmine explosions 100 per-cent be awarded 100 per- cent bonuses. Furthermore, every employee in this directorate, working in administration, accounting or any other work would be entitled to bonuses. The bonuses are 100,000 Iraqi dinars for the head of departments and 75,000 Iraqi dinars for the rest of the employees. This is only for people working with landmines and nobody else gets this bonuses.
One metre used to cost 50 US dollars but now it costs one
Landmine clearance and other areas were criticized in the past for being slow and wasting a lot of money as well as the cost of rent for landmine clearance. Apart from the process, being slow one- metre clearance was costing around 50 US dollars. However, because of the local companies competing for the contract the prices have been driven down. The clearance companies still manage to make profits with the reduced cost of the contracts and the question remain to be asked is, how much they used to profit in the past. The price has been reduced now to 2 or 3 US dollars or even in some cases to less than a dollar per meter. There have been reports that the speedy clearance can have a consequence of leaving land mines behind. These cases have been very few because there are quality control unit visiting the fields and they make sure it is clear. There have been two cases so far which was not by a large margin, as it is possible that the land mine was fallen from the Bulldozer fork. This has been noted and money has been deducted from their contract.
We take out the landmines without damaging the ruins
The areas were we cannot work with machines like hills, which are not ruins; we would resort back to the manual clearance. The de- miners would be working manually to preserve the areas that have ruins. We are not allowed to use machines even if the area is flat and machines can be used.
What is Ottawa?
In 18 of September 1997, Ottawa treaty was agreed and was later implemented in 1999. The treaty was designed to try to put an end to the issues facing people and to stop those countries that have personal landmines using them. Few countries have not become a member of the treaty despite having landmines. The number of the members in December 2007 was standing at 106 and Iraq was the last country to join on 18/08/2007. The treaty requires the countries in possession of personal landmines or has landmines in use to be destroyed within 10 years and those have stored landmines to destroy their stock within 4 years.
Every Tuesday the cleared land is returned to the citizens
After making sure the land is clear from landmines, every Tuesday the land which have been cleared are returned to their owners.
The last request
We have few request for the citizens, do not come close to the areas where there are natural signs, manmade signs and military signs indicating the existing of landmines. And do not tamper with the landmine signs for some material gains because they would be more beneficial if they stay where they are.
Originally published by Komal, Sulaymaniyah, in Sorani Kurdish 5 Jul 08.
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