Danish Demining Group in Kurdistan, Iraq

The Kurdish Region of Iraq or Kurdistan for short is one of the most heavily mined regions in the world. With more than 40 years of warfare, Islamic State and Turkish bombings in the north being the latest addition, the region is littered with landmines, explosive remnants of war (ERW) and, as a novelty, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) introduced on a wider scale by Islamic State.
 
 

The Kurdish Region of Iraq or Kurdistan for short is one of the most heavily mined regions in the world[1]. With more than 40 years of warfare, Islamic State and Turkish bombings in the north being the latest addition, the region is littered with landmines, explosive remnants of war (ERW) and, as a novelty, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) introduced on a wider scale by Islamic State.

Mine Action has been on the ground in Kurdistan 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.

MRE Trainees providing an interactive session for the rest of the trainees as part of an exercise during the MRE Training in Duhok, the Kurdish Region of Iraq.

DDG has worked in Southern Iraq, Basra governorate since 2003, successfully providing landmine and ERW risk education (MRE) and performing Community Liaison (CL) work in addition to Battle Area Clearance (BAC) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) within Basra Governorate. As security deteriorated in Baghdad and as a response to the increased need for Mine Action, in the beginning of 2015 Danish Demining Group (DDG) moved its operations to Erbil in Kurdistan. With funding for Mine Risk Education (MRE) and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) a main office was established and the application process to obtain a letter of accreditation from the Iraqi Kurdish Mine Action Agency (IKMAA) to allow DDG to commence activities in the Kurdistan initiated. While waiting for the accreditation to be finalised, DDG began the recruitment process for MRE team members in early June 2015 and could in the beginning of August 2015 complete the training of 13 MRE Trainees in Duhok northern Kurdistan.

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 as such, but rather the ability to make the beneficiaries believe in the MRE Facilitator, believe in the messages and adopt the advice given as new and safer 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.

MRE Trainees using visual aids, in this case Sponge Bob, while providing an MRE session to the other MRE trainees posing as children.

Once the accreditation has been obtained the MRE teams will be deployed to the DRC managed IDP and refugee camps, where they will become comfortable with the concept of MRE and sensitising 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 target the populations, who are exposed to ERW and/or IEDs every day. With more than four million internally displaced people (IDPs) and Syrian refugees in Iraq[2] of which more than a million have sought refuge in relatively stable Kurdistan[3], the at-risk population is massive. Kurdistan still has a vast number of minefields and the recent conflict with Islamic State has rendered large areas in the west and south contaminated by remnants of war. 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 native areas passing through and/or settling in highly contaminated areas.

Clearing all the deadly remnants of war from Kurdistan, 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, where daily fighting only adds to the problem, for the foreseeable future DDG aims to continue to work to make the people of the region a little bit safer.



[1] http://the-monitor.org/en-gb/reports/2015/iraq/mine-action.aspx

[2] http://www.UNHCR.org

[3] http://www.reach-initiative.org/bilingual-maps-promote-coordination-in-iraqs-displacement-sites