There may be more landmines deployed per person in Kurdish Iraq (population around 3.5 million) than in any other region in the world. A 1993 State Department report estimates that the Iraqi army laid 3 to 5 million mines there during the Iran-Iraq war and in the months leading up to the 1991 Gulf war. Others estimate that the number may be as high as 10 million, including mines that Iran also laid. Rough estimates of the ratios for the worst-affected countries are one mine per person in Angola and Afghanistan, and one mine for every two persons in Cambodia.

The Iraqi military kept no records that might facilitate mapping and clearance. The Mines Advisory Group, a British NGO, has been working in Iraqi Kurdistan since May 1992, training local residents in mine survey and clearance, minefield marking, and community awareness. A MAG survey of 2,190 villages in Suleimaniya and Erbil governorates records a total of about 1,400 deaths and 1,900 injuries between 1991 and 1993, but the working assumption is that half of all deaths, and a greater proportion of injuries, go unreported. Data from 1994 for the same governorates show 116 deaths and 417 casualties. The worst periods are March, when farming activities start, and October, when firewood collection begins and smuggling increases.

The most common mines found in Iraq are manufactured by Valsella Meccanotechnica, an Italian firm. French, US and Chinese mines were also used in Kurdistan, as well as Iraqi-manufactured mines of the Valsella type. In February 1991, seven executives of Valsella were convicted (and received suspended sentences) for illegally exporting 9 million land mines to Iraq in the 1982-1985 period through a dummy company in Singapore.

A January 1995 update of the State Department report estimates that worldwide some 500 people are killed or maimed every week by land mines. In 1994, 800,000 mines were cleared but 2 million new ones were planted.

How to cite this article:

Joe Stork "Hidden Death," Middle East Report 193 (March/April 1995).
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