Some countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, are oil-rich, while others, like Yemen, have few natural resources within their territory. Many Middle Eastern countries depend on agriculture and light manufacturing for their populations’ livelihoods. Riddled with strife, the region has historically been a hotbed of civil, religious, and military wars, which have left the area strewn with landmines and explosive remnants of war.
Iraq is one of the most severely mine- and unexploded ordnance- (UXO) affected nations in the world. Iraq’s landmine and UXO problems are a consequence of more than three decades of conflict: the 1980–88 Iraq-Iran War, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003–present). The Iraq Landmine Impact Survey estimates that landmines cover an area of 727 square kilometers and UXO-contaminated areas affect an estimated 851 square kilometers. In addition, hundreds of cached and abandoned ordnance sites exist throughout the country, sites that not only pose an immediate humanitarian risk but also serve as a ready source of explosives for terrorists and insurgents.
The United States Embassy successfully engaged with the Iraqi government to allow humanitarian demining to continue in 2009. In FY2009, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) invested more than $22 million in humanitarian mine-action and conventional weapons destruction (CWD) projects in Iraq as follows:
• RONCO Consulting Corporation: $9.5 million to continue to develop the management and operational capability of Iraq Mine and UXO Clearance Organization (IMCO) as it has expanded its operations to the PM/WRA compound in southern Iraq and to provide technical advisory support to IMCO as it introduces mechanical equipment into its humanitarian demining operations.
• MAG (Mines Advisory Group): $3.8 million to fund a combination of minefield and battle-area clearance operations and explosive ordnance disposal/small arms/light weapons destruction missions in northern Iraq.
• IMCO: $4.3 million to continue direct funding of IMCO’s CWD activities, as well as to establish a long-term base of operations for IMCO outside of the “International Zone.” Between the end of September 2008 and January 2009 when the Iraqi government suspended operations, the team destroyed 37,939 weapons, ranging from pistols to 120mm mortars.
• Information Management and Mine Action Program: $1.2 million to explosive remnants of war (ERW)/mine survey and data-management operations, as well as a victim-assistance project in northern Iraq.
• Marshall Legacy Institute: $1.1 million to continue its indigenous mine-detection dog program in northern Iraq.
• Danish Demining Group: $850,000 to contribute to the national mine-action effort and to assist the Iraqi people in the disposal of ERW in southern Iraq, preventing casualties related to ERW in conflict-affected areas.
• United Nations Development Programme Mine Action Team: $685,000 to strengthen the Iraqi inter-ministerial coordination mechanism to develop a sustainable Directorate of Mine Action and Higher Council for Mine Action.
• Spirit of Soccer: $325,000 to expand its mine-risk education program for at-risk children through soccer coaching activities. This program is aimed at reducing the number of child fatalities and injuries caused by landmines and other ERW. Spirit of Soccer also received $150,000 to conduct a regional MRE Soccer Tournament to raise awareness and promote advocacy to children from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and the West Bank.
• James Madison University’s Center for International Stabilization and Recovery/Mine Action Information Center: $300,000 to increase self-confidence, emotional/physical health, and life direction for landmine survivors, and empower them to help other victims in the same way in their countries of origin through a “Pathways to Resiliency” program.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program, in partnership with MAG, continued evaluations of several excavator sifting attachments and a commercial front-loader attachment. The assistance, valued at $120,000, included support to repair and improve a vehiclemounted portable sifting system. To date, this equipment has sifted more than 20,000 cubic meters of contaminated soil. More than 750 mines and hundreds of pieces of UXO have been uncovered and destroyed. MAG continues to utilize the equipment in clearing villages and agricultural areas that have been mine-affected for more than 20 years.
In FY2009 the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) contributed $2.7 million toward Jordan’s mine-action initiatives:
• National Committee for Demining and Rehabilitation (NCDR): $320,000 grant to continue to conduct an intensive explosive remnants of war (ERW)/mine-risk education (MRE) program to cover all ERW- and mine-affected communities, focusing specifically on Jordan’s northern regions
• NCDR: an additional $1.2- million grant to develop and present twice the Explosive Remnants of War International Senior Managers Training Course covering instruction on the design and management of national owned responses to the presence of landmines and ERW
• NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency: $880,000 to enhance ammunition stockpile management by constructing a new ammunition processing facility
• James Madison University’s Center for International Stabilization and Recovery/Mine Action Information Center: $300,000 to continue MRE projects, including performances of a theatrical play that provides intensive MRE to a total of 100,000 at-risk people in northern Jordan
Since the beginning of its civil war in 1975 through the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict, landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) have contaminated much of Lebanon. In 2003, a Landmine Impact Survey estimated that 22 of 24 districts in Lebanon were affected by unexploded ordnance (UXO) and landmines, spanning 150 square kilometers. In 2008, a National Level II Technical Survey was scheduled to obtain the most up-to-date picture of the landmine and ERW threat in Lebanon and provide the necessary data to remove it. However, the survey was delayed due to poor weather conditions.
In FY2009, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political- Military Affairs (PM/WRA) contributed $4,791,672 to Lebanon as follows:
Handler Ali Zayour works with Vinston, a mine-detection dog, in Akoura village, Mount LEBANON governorate. [Lebanon Mine Action Center]
• DynCorp International: $1,591,672 awarded to continue development of the Lebanon Mine Action Center (LMAC) to integrate all aspects of humanitarian mine action (HMA) effectively, complete a Level II Technical Survey of all suspected minefields, mark all minefields found by the survey, and establish a quality assurance/quality control cell and a conventional weapons destruction team within LMAC.
Also in FY2009, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Leahy War Victims Fund’s provided $800,000 to the World Rehabilitation Fund, Inc. as part of a three-year grant which began in 2006. The project’s purpose is to develop practices, policies, attitudes, and capacity to address the socioeconomic problems and social burden resulting from landmines and acts of war.
In addition, the United States Armed Forces, Central Command (USARCENT ), hosted a Demining Seminar with 31 Lebanese officers and noncommissioned officers to share information on improvised-explosive-device employment, tactics, techniques, and procedures, as well as lessons learned from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The seminar participants observed Lebanese Armed Forces’ (LAF) demining operations, the LAF Explosive Ordnance Disposal/Engineer Academy, the UXO and Fuze Museum, and two LAF humanitarian mine-action demining sites. USARCENT plans future HMA assistance through events and projects in support of the Lebanon Mine Action Center.
Boy with his sister in Thula, YEMEN. November 2009. [Laurie Freeman / PM/WRA]
In FY2009, PM/WRA provided $600,000 to Yemen as follows:
• YEMAC: $400,000 to purchase numerous pieces of demining equipment and vehicles to replace old or worn-out equipment for Yemen’s mine-action program
• United Nations Development Programme: $200,000 to continue the operational support of the rehabilitation and integration of landmine victims in their local communities through the YEMAC
Furthermore, the Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program, in cooperation with YEMAC, completed an operational field evaluation of the Improved Backhoe, a value of $157,000. The Improved Backhoe is a modified commercial backhoe with the capability of reducing vegetation and sifting through the soil of areas suspected of mine contamination. During a two-year period the Improved Backhoe assisted YEMAC in clearing four high-priority minefields that had been deeply buried by shifting sand dunes.