Iraq called for international help on Monday to clear the estimated 20 million mines which pose a death threat in one of the world’s most heavily mined countries after three decades of conflict.

“Removing mines from Iraq is difficult because there are no maps to indicate the mined areas,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said at a government-organised landmines conference in Baghdad.

“That is why we need the effort of donor countries and the experience of the international community,” he told representatives of donors to Iraqi reconstruction since the 2003 US-led invasion, a list which includes the United States, European Union, Japan and the United Nations.

“Iraq is losing the blood of its sons,” he said in reference to deaths by unexploded landmines remaining from the 1980-1988 war against Iran, the 1991 conflict over Kuwait, and the invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
“We are responsible for the security of our people,” Maliki said.

Since 1991, an estimated 8,000 Iraqis, among them 2,000 children, have been killed or maimed by mines and cluster bombs, according to United Nations figures.

Daniel Augstburger of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) highlighted the scale of the problem.
“Iraq is one of the most contaminated landmine- and unexploded-ordnance affected countries of the world,” he said.
“More than 20 million anti-personnel landmines were laid together with unexploded ordnance, including cluster munitions,” said Augstburger, head of UNAMI’s liaison assistance mission.

He said 1.6 million Iraqis were affected by landmines, and that 90 percent of contaminated land was agricultural. “This contamination also impacts on numerous development projects, including oil and gas,” said Augstburger.
Iraq’s national security adviser Safa al-Shekh said “the government cares about the issue and knows how serious it is. It is a huge challenge.”

Unexploded mines “can be used by terrorists” at a time when security forces are trying to put down an Al-Qaeda insurgency and
sectarian strife, the Iraqi official said.

“Iraq needs international support to remove mines,” Shekh said.

Source: Salam Faraj for AFP.

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Iraq called for international help on Monday to clear the estimated 20 million mines…