Danish Demining Group in Kurdistan, IraqThe Kurdish Region of Iraq is one of the most heavily mined regions in the world . With more than 40 years of warfare, Islamic State (IS) and Turkish bombings in the north being the latest addition, the region is littered with landmines, Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and, introduced on a wider scale by IS, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
Mine action has been on the ground in the Kurdish Region of Iraq for more than two decades, but with the recent influx of refugees from Syria and internally displaced people from areas in Iraq contested by the Iraqi Army/Peshmerga and Islamic State, the need for more clearing and more awareness raising has become urgent.
The Danish Demining Group (DDG) has worked in Southern Iraq, Basra governorate, since 2003, successfully providing landmine and MRE and performing Community Liaison (CL) work in addition to Battle Area Clearance (BAC) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). As security deteriorated in Baghdad and as a response to the increased need for mine action, in the beginning of 2015 DDG moved its operations to Erbil in the north. With funding for MRE and EOD, a main office was established and the application process to obtain a letter of accreditation from the Iraqi Kurdish Mine Action Agency (IKMAA) was initiated. While waiting for the accreditation to be finalised, DDG began the recruitment process for MRE team members in early June 2015 and in the beginning of August 2015 completed the training of 13 MRE Trainees in Duhok.
MRE is a comparatively uncomplicated activity. It entails providing a collection of practical advice to enable people to live in or travel through former conflict areas as safely as possible, even if coming across suspicious items or straying into a minefield. The crux of MRE is thus not the substance, but rather the ability to make the beneficiaries believe in the MRE Facilitator, adopting the advice given as new and safe behaviour. The four-day MRE training hence entailed a substantial amount of time spent on how to approach people and make people aware. Using the approach that the MRE sessions have to be Simple, Interactive and Relevant, the MRE trainees focused on how and what they present to whom in what context and how to keep people’s attention and interest during the sessions.
Once the accreditation has been obtained, the MRE teams will be deployed to the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) managed Internally Displaced People (IDP) and refugee camps, where they will become comfortable with the concept of MRE and sensitize people to the threat posed by landmines, ERW and IEDs. As the MRE facilitators gather experience, DDG will increasingly be deploying the teams to the areas recently liberated from IS to educate civilians, who are exposed to ERW and/or IEDs every day. With more than four million IDPs and Syrian refugees in Iraq of which more than a million have sought refuge in relatively stable Kurdish Region of Iraq, the at-risk population is massive. The area still has a vast number of minefields and the recent conflict with IS has rendered large areas in the west and south contaminated by ERW. In addition to living in a region still littered with ERW and landmines, most IDPs and refugees will at some point in the future return to their homes, passing through and/or settling in highly contaminated areas.
Clearing all the deadly remnants of war from the Kurdish Region of Iraq, Iraq and Syria, will take decades if not centuries with the cost of such an operation being counted in millions of dollars. Until the region can be declared landmine, ERW and IED free and once again be safe to live in, MRE is a necessary and efficient way to keep the populations comparatively safe in this highly contaminated region.