A series of conflicts since the 1980s has left Iraq as one of the world’s most mine-contaminated countries. The war with Iran from 1980-88, the 1991 Gulf War, and the 2003 invasion by the United States-led coalition all contributed to widespread contamination, including barrier minefields along Iraq's borders with Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The seizure of large areas of Iraq by IS/Daesh, during and after 2014, added further contamination of the country with improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These are largely victim-operated home-made landmines. Cities such as Fallujah in Anbar Province have been surrounded by long barrier minefields of home-made mines, many kilometres in length.
A wide variety of improvised devices were left by IS, but they mostly consist of devices activated by a pressure-plate or by “crush necklace” wires sufficiently sensitive to be detonated by the weight of a child and connected to an explosive charge. The size of the charge ranges from 3kg to 100kg, which is capable of destroying a vehicle.
The mine action response in Anbar and overall in federal Iraq has been limited to small-scale clearance of critical infrastructure. Up to 2018, there has been little mine action support provided in Anbar by humanitarian mine action organisations to allow people to return to their homes.
The HALO Trust received accreditation and registration in Iraq in May 2018 and aims to provide a more cost-effective and long-term approach, employing Iraqi staff and enlarging local humanitarian mine action capacity in the country.
Most humanitarian demining operators have been working from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) in and around the city of Mosul and in the former Kurdish controlled territories. While there is much work to be done in Mosul, other fragile areas like Anbar have high levels of explosives contamination and clear humanitarian need. There is also a risk that conflict may erupt again if stabilisation and reconstruction efforts are inadequate. This will have consequences for human security, migration and potential new conflicts in the region. For this reason, the HALO Trust, supported by the Iraqi Department for Mine Action, believes it is important to start clearance activities in Anbar.
HALO's clearance work will allow for the rebuilding of Iraq’s major war-torn cities. The programme will begin clearance operations in August 2018 and in the first phase of the project HALO's work will benefit around 300,000 people in and around Fallujah. In the longer term, HALO will expand to other parts of federal Iraq where there is a lack of humanitarian mine action operators.
HALO's mechanical and manual clearance teams will clear IEDs in collapsed buildings within Falluja and other urban areas and from the long barrier 'minefields' of IEDs laid around the perimeter of cities. Armoured mechanical equipment is needed for collapsed buildings where the instability of the structure and the unknown nature of unexploded ordnance or IEDs make manual clearance impossible in urban environments.