Launch of weapons clearance operations in Iraq
In January 2017, Handicap International launched weapons clearance operations in the governorates of Kirkuk and Diyala in Iraq. In one month, the organisation has already destroyed more than 1,000 explosive remnants of war in sectors seriously affected by fighting.
Explosive remnants of war found in the governorate of Kirkuk, ready to be destroyed. | © E. Fourt / Handicap International
Handicap International weapons clearance teams have identified, collected and destroyed explosive remnants of war every week since early January 2017.
“We have trained several specialized teams - some thirty people - to destroy explosive remnants of war in two governorates,” explains Alberto Casero Gómez-Pastrana, Chief of Operations for Mine Action of Handicap International in Iraq.
“We know the areas we work in are highly strategic because they are heavily contaminated. The fighting there was intense and, now that the conflict is over, people who return are taking a serious risk.”
The organisation’s weapons clearance teams conduct several types of operations: “We destroy explosive remnants of war in different ways depending on their type,” explains Alberto. “We do grouped disposals, for example, to destroy dozens of explosive devices, in areas identified and secured in advance. But some explosive devices can’t be moved and have to be destroyed where they are. It’s then a long process because we need to destroy them one by one.”
Handicap International’s weapons clearance experts have already destroyed more than one thousand explosive remnants of war in just a few weeks, showing how heavily contaminated the fighting-affected areas are.
“Weapons clearance actions are vital in Iraq, especially in areas where people previously displaced by fighting are starting to return,” explains Alberto.
“For instance, the village of Basheer, in the governorate of Kirkuk, was captured by the Islamic State group in 2015. Six hundred families who lived there fled. In May 2016, Basheer was retaken by the army. Since then, people have started to return. Some 60 families are now back in the village. But because the fighting was so heavy, the land is still highly contaminated. Our work here is vital to keep people safe.”
Dozens of the organisation’s professionals currently work on weapons clearance operations. Other Handicap International teams are also running risk education sessions in the country to raise local awareness on the dangers of mines and other explosive weapons. After decades of conflict, Iraq is now one of the most contaminated countries in the world.