Helping Iraq Defeat ISIS through U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Efforts

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An Iraqi demining technician on the job in northern Iraq. (Photo courtesy of Janus Global)
An Iraqi demining technician on the job in northern Iraq. (Photo courtesy of Janus Global)

Helping Iraq Defeat ISIS through U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Efforts

On March 22, Secretary Tillerson hosted a meeting for the foreign ministers of the 68-member Global Coalition working to defeat ISIS. While Secretary Tillerson pointed to military and diplomatic progress against this terrorist organization, looking ahead, he also urged leaders to continue to support the work needed to stabilize territory liberated from ISIS, which will be critical to helping families to safely return home and rebuild. An essential part of the stabilization effort in these areas involves addressing the hazards of landmines and unexploded ordnance.

Communities across Iraq have historically faced danger from an estimated 10 to15 million landmines and pieces of unexploded ordnance from conflicts dating back to the1940s. For example, numerous large barrier minefields and unexploded ordnance remain along the Iran-Iraq border as a result of the 1980s conflict between the two nations. The war in the early 1990s and the conflict that began in 2003 also scattered significant numbers of additional unexploded ordnance, particularly in the southern region of the country. In the cases of the more recent conflicts, the use of mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by ISIS are making an already serious challenge exponentially worse.

As civilians flee fighting in large population centers such as Mosul, these displaced families come to live in communities with unfamiliar explosive hazard situations. When displaced families return home, they are also confronted with hazards from the recent conflict, often including mines and booby traps left in and around their homes by ISIS. Teams on the ground have reported discovering IEDs hidden by ISIS in homes, schools, hospitals, houses of worship, and even daycare centers, seemingly intended to specifically kill or injure returning families, humanitarian assistance workers, or explosive ordnance disposal experts working to save lives.

Iraqi volunteers with Spirit of Soccer, a non-governmental organization supported by the United States, teach displaced Iraqi families about the dangers of unexploded ordnance. (Photo courtesy of Spirit of Soccer)

In the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA), where I work, we are supporting humanitarian mine action programs in Iraq to provide a secure environment for the men, women, and children displaced by the conflicts to return. 

Removing the explosive hazards placed by ISIS is a prerequisite to also enabling humanitarian assistance and broader stabilization efforts. The United States has invested more than $333 million in Iraq since 2003 toward the clearance and safe disposal of landmines, unexploded ordnance, and securing excess conventional weapons and munitions.

During the past year, PM/WRA provided more than $33 million to eight implementing partners to support these efforts in Iraq. The programs delivered risk education to more than 90,000 Iraqi men, women, and children and cleared explosive hazards in areas liberated from ISIS. The United States’ humanitarian assistance efforts in Iraq have traditionally focused on facilitating broader stabilization in order to allow for the return of displaced Iraqis. In addition to this focus on stabilization, our efforts have included and will continue to involve the clearance of legacy contamination in northern and southern Iraq to protect local populations and promote economic growth and security.

Explosive hazards litter the streets of Ramadi, Iraq. (Photo courtesy of Janus Global)

As Iraq continues to make progress liberating areas from ISIS, the United States is committed to further expanding its efforts to help with the critical clearance of explosive hazards, including IEDs, especially around key infrastructure areas. 

As Secretary Tillerson underscored at the recent foreign ministers' meeting, “We must keep making the investment in liberated areas in Iraq and Syria to help innocent people rebuild and stabilize their communities.  Right now, this means continuing to clear explosives, restore water and power, deliver humanitarian and resettlement assistance, and forge partnerships with the local leaders who reject extremism.”

To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.

About the Author: Natalie Wazir is the Lead Program Manager for Iraq and Syria in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

Editor's Note: This entry is also published on Medium.com/StateDept.