About the Author: Kelly McCaleb is a Foreign Service Officer currently serving in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
2010 has been a landmark year for helping Iraq overcome threats from landmines and unexploded munitions dating back to the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Through a $25 million investment in Iraq's future, overseen by U.S. Embassy Baghdad and the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs' Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, we have worked together to expand conventional weapons destruction programs across the country, improving security, promoting economic opportunity, and furthering our hope for new long-term partnership with the people of Iraq.
The United States is the world's single largest financial contributor to post-conflict efforts to remove landmines and unexploded ordnance around the world. Since 1993, the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program has partnered with dozens of nongovernmental organizations to deliver more than $1.8 billion in aid to 81 countries. Since 2003, the United States has provided more than $200 million toward conventional weapons destruction projects in Iraq that we believe will continue setting the stage for its post-conflict recovery and economic development, as detailed in our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.
While our programs are well-established in northern areas of Iraq, expanding our efforts to clear landmines and educate communities about potential risks into several central and southern provinces was a major step forward.
The Department of State has a full time Demining Advisor in Baghdad who works closely with the Iraqi government to implement projects, supported by several international partners, including Danish Demining Group, MAG (Mines Advisory Group) International, Norwegian People's Aid, and the United Nations Development Program. U.S.-funded technical advisors are working with the Iraq National Mine Action Authority in Baghdad and the Regional Mine Action Authority in the south. In 2010 alone, this effort successfully cleared landmines and unexploded munitions from more than 18,000 square meters of land, boosting economic and agricultural development throughout the nation.
The State Department's goal is to build indigenous capacity so that the people of Iraq can protect themselves against the dangers of landmines. As a complement to the survey and clearance work, local organizations such as the Iraq Mine and Unexploded Ordnance Clearance Organization (IMCO), led by a former Iraqi General, are training Iraqis in the necessary technical skills needed to continue these vital efforts. Through this organization, Iraqi citizens from all walks of life are now working together to ensure the safety of the Iraqi people.
But survey and clearance operations are only part of the story. Other U.S.-funded initiatives, such as Spirit of Soccer provide educational outreach about potential landmine risks while others, such as the Basra Prosthetics Project, provide essential medical services to people injured by these hidden killers.
Despite progress, much work remains. As many as 1,730 square kilometers of land in Iraq are still believed to contain millions of landmines and millions more pieces of unexploded ordnance, according to the United Nations. Roughly 90 percent of this area is located in agricultural lands, making clearance an economic necessity as well as a security priority in the years ahead. But with every step in the right direction, we will continue to make strides in decreasing the landmine threat throughout Iraq.