Iraq mine clearance slow to progress

10 April 2014

Iraq’s ban on land mine clearance companies indicates its increasingly difficult working environment

On 4 April, delegates met in Geneva for a conference to mark the UN’s land mine awareness day. Discussions ranged from the development of mine-action capacities to the role of women in de-mining. But on the sidelines of the meeting, another set of talks emerged, after Iraq banned foreign mine clearance firms from operating in the country at the end of March. Iraqi officials and executives from several oil firms sat down to thrash out an agreement that would allow work to continue as they seek to raise the country’s oil production. UK/Dutch Shell says it has cleared more than 13,000 explosive remnants from the Majnoon field.

The ban was ostensibly to pressure the clearance firms to make greater payments to charities for land mine victims. It was overturned after the talks, but highlights Iraq’s increasingly difficult working environment. A report in 2010 by the US State Department documented a number of obstacles to mine clearance in Iraq. “There appears to be relatively little grassroots pressure in Iraq for mine action, nor are mines seen as a major deterrence to economic development,” it said.

The first public entity created to deal with the issue, the National Mine Action Authority, was dissolved in 2006, when its director and several officials were jailed for corruption. Among their crimes, according to the State Department, were irregularities in the purchase of $13m of equipment. Without real pressure for mine action from the government, this situation will persist.

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