Destroying Munitions in Northern Iraq

Posted by Jonathan Cebra
February 11, 2008
Munitions Demolition in Iraq

Jonathan Cebra serves as Public Diplomacy Officer for the Regional Reconstruction Team in Erbil, Iraq.

Last week, my boss was one of the few American diplomats in Iraq asked to set off an explosion. We were working with a group called the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) – which as the name suggests is involved in de-mining operations in a number of countries. Here in Iraq, MAG’s activities also include disposing of small arms and light munitions. MAG’s operations in the Sulaimaniyah area (where the demolition took place) are funded by the Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. You can read MAG’s description here.

Unfortunately there are a lot of abandoned munitions all around the country which creates a variety of problems: munitions can explode accidentally; abandoned munitions are also a source of explosive materials that can be used to make IEDs. The weapons and munitions that we destroyed came from a junk yard south of the city of Sulaimaniyah. The junk yard included non-military scrap metal along with an old tank several pieces of artillery, mortar rounds, and tank ammunition. The junk yard was next to a school, neighborhood children had been passing through on their way to and from school until a member of the community reported the site to MAG. Apparently, one of the curious children had taken a mortar round home and put it in a fire to see what would happen – there weren’t any serious injuries, but it did explode. The experts also showed us one mortar shell which had been unscrewed to remove the explosives and another which had had copper portions of the casing removed. Copper has good resale value, but is it worth that risk?

After touring the site where the munitions were being collected – including anything found within the last couple days, we went up a bit into the mountains to the demolition site. At the demolition site, MAG had buried 1.7 tons of munitions recovered during the previous two weeks in a small valley surrounded by hills on all sides in order to minimize any peripheral damage that the blast might cause.

The folks at MAG know much more about safely destroying weapons than we diplomats do, but our value added was in raising awareness of MAG’s activities within the community. As the MAG country director explained, most minefields in Iraq are marked and people know where they are, but weapons caches are scattered around the country. In some cases they may have been deliberately hidden, in others, like this site, simply abandoned. Either way, MAG relies heavily on the local community to alert them to the existence of such sites. Community liaison is an important element of their work, and MAG has been running a public information campaign to encourage people to contact them; by bringing in television cameras and newspaper reporters we helped MAG to publicize their activities and encourage citizens to report other caches.



New York, USA
February 12, 2008

Ronald in New York writes:

The elimination of mines is a good thing. How about making their sources transparent before you blow them up? This would name and shame the purveyors of death in the world's most vulnerable regions. There are literally hundreds of millions of small arms, light weapons, and ordnance of all manner and devastating shape being shipped around the globe. Licit and illicit. conventional and non-conventional...just think of the monetary value of the products of war...trillions....just consider the value of human life in the face of these weapons...less-than-zero...

Why wouldn't a poor Iraqi risk life and limb for the few dollars paid for a piece of copper....Why can't a sane economy be created without WMD?....It is just bizarre to think that the USG makes the weapons, tracks them, funds their dismantling, and promotes their removal by explosion.

I still don't get it.

New York, USA
February 12, 2008

Ronald in New York writes:

Cache in...cache out....

OK...removing dangerous munitions is good. How about making their sources known and tracking back to the suppliers for punitive damages? How about not creating these deadly weapons by the millions to begin with. How about creating new economies so people don't have to risk life and limb to peel off a bit of copper to sell to live?

The USG is making, selling, dumping, and doing PR on the elimination of WMD's all around the globe...what a stupid and costly game.

Sorry, even with the picture of the exploding sale.

United States
February 16, 2008

Zharkov in U.S.A. writes:

Eliminating land mines in Iraq is wonderfully altruistic, if not heroic work, but where are the Iraqi soldiers who should be training to do this work?

As in the Vietnam War, Americans seem to have to do everything in Iraq. Are there no Iraqi people willing to learn to use a mine detector and a shovel?

There is an old saying about teaching a man how to fish rather than just giving him a fish dinner. It's got a lot of wisdom packed into a few words. I recommend someone look it up sometime, because Iraq will eventually have to take care of itself, maybe in 100 years or so, if the U.S. government lasts that long.


Latest Stories

November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Without Borders

Writing for the U.S. Department of State DipNote blog, Lillian dValcourt-Ayala reflects on a Thanksgiving without borders in Rome, where… more
November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

Writing for the U.S. Department of State DipNote blog, DipNote Bloggers extend readers a "Happy Thanksgiving" and express gratitude to… more