President Obama and Secretary Clinton have reaffirmed our continued commitment to building a strong partnership with a free and democratic Iraq. Moving forward, one of the many areas where we hope to build on this relationship will be working with Iraqi authorities to help them safeguard their citizens from landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other excess and unsecured conventional weapons and munitions.
Surveys indicate that agricultural land is particularly at risk for landmines and unexploded ordnance, making clearance an economic necessity for communities to regain their livelihoods as well as an issue of securing Iraq's future.
Since 2003, the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program has invested more than $209 million towards the clearance and safe disposal of these hidden hazards. Much of the territory in Iraq that will require further work is the central eastern border region with Iran that still contains many mines leftover from the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and some areas further north of Baghdad near the Kurdish region where Saddam Hussein placed many mines.
The Department of State, through the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs funds a number of initiatives administered by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other public-private partners currently operating throughout Iraq. These NGOs are working in mine clearance operations, conventional weapons destruction, education and outreach programs to teach children and adults about the dangers posed by mines and unexploded ordnance. Other NGOs are involved in rehabilitation/vocational training for Iraqi survivors of incidents involving these weapons.
This challenge will require a long term commitment, and a major goal is to continue building local partnership capacity, in helping Iraqis get the training and tools they need to safeguard their country. Our partners at the Iraq Mine/UXO Clearance Organization (IMCO) of Central/Southern Iraq, are a prime example. This Iraqi organization has already returned 2.5 million square meters of land to local communities as a result of successful clearance operations. Last year, we helped deliver additional demining machinery to IMCO which is expected to significantly accelerate their clearance of suspected hazardous areas, returning farmers to their land, children to their schools, and communities to their homes.
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 significant progress, much work remains. As many as 1,670 Iraqi cities, towns and villages remain at risk from explosive hazards and an estimated 1,863 square kilometers (719 square miles) of land in Iraq are reported to contain as many as 20 million landmines and millions more pieces of unexploded ordnance, according to the UN. But with every step in the right direction, we continue to make strides in decreasing the landmine threat throughout Iraq.
The United States continues to be the world leader in financing efforts to clear unexploded ordnance and landmines. Since 1993, the U.S. has invested more than $1.9 billion in support of conventional weapons destruction efforts in 81 countries, further enhancing peace and security worldwide.