MAG teams up with Facebook to reduce casualties from ISIS mines in Iraq

The Mines Advisory Group (MAG) has launched an innovative project with Facebook and the US government to help people in northern Iraq learn how to stay safe from the landmines and unexploded bombs left behind after years of war.

The initiative uses Facebook’s advertising tools to deliver simple graphics to at-risk groups describing how to recognise dangers, how to stay safe if an explosive device is discovered, and how to alert the authorities to the problem.

The pilot project, which will run until November 2019, will target users living in Ninewa, a governorate in northern Iraq that is home to 2.5 million people.

Ninewa, and Mosul, its capital city, were heavily affected by the conflict between the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and Iraqi government forces. More than three years of conflict had a devastating impact on the area: more than 125,000 square kilometres of the governorate are now believed to be contaminated with improvised landmines and other explosive devices. Many landmines manufactured by ISIS are sensitive enough to be triggered by a child but powerful enough to disable a tank.

The initiative aims to reach at least 85 per cent of Facebook users in Ninewa—an estimated 1.4 million people—and will be supported by MAG teams working on the ground. A dedicated website (www.staysafefrommines.com) also contains essential information on how to stay safe from mines in three languages. The messages have already reached over 800,000 people in the region since the initiative launched in September.

Since 2016, MAG has removed more than 17,000 explosive items from Ninewa—many found in and around homes, schools, and health facilities. MAG teams have given risk education sessions to more than 175,000 people, teaching them how to recognise, avoid, and report explosives. These sessions are typically delivered in person by MAG staff. However, with tens of thousands of families continuing to return home after the fall of ISIS, there has been a need to develop a way to provide life-saving education to larger audiences, more quickly.

This need was the foundation of the collaboration between MAG, the US government and Facebook.

Portia Stratton, Country Director for MAG in Iraq, said:

Almost half of landmine victims are children, so it’s important as many people as possible learn how to keep their families safe until we can clear the danger.

“Our staff usually give lessons in-person, but that means the reach is limited and more costly. Using Facebook to get to hundreds of thousands of at-risk people via their phones could have a real impact in helping reduce the casualties from these devastating devices.

A spokesperson for Facebook said:

 “Facebook is honoured to play a part in helping reduce landmine casualties in Iraq. With so many now using Facebook around the world, ads are another way to share urgent information with communities who might be at risk. We hope that these messages in Iraq could one day save a life.”

Sol Black, Program Manager for Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen Emergency Response at the US State Department said:

As part of our constant search for new and innovative ways to keep people safe from explosive hazards left by ISIS in Iraq, the United States Department of State is proud to partner with MAG and Facebook to deliver targeted risk education to Iraqis living in areas most heavily impacted by improvised explosive devices, landmines, and other explosive hazards left by ISIS.

“By leveraging an existing communications platform already used by the majority of Iraqis, this Department of State-facilitated initiative uses an innovative approach to deliver life-saving information to those Iraqis most likely to encounter dangerous explosive hazards.

MAG is a global landmine clearance charity that’s helped over 18 million people in 68 countries rebuild their lives and livelihoods after war.

We have worked in Iraq since 1992 to make land safe for populations affected by decades of conflict.

(Source: MAG)

By Tessa Fox for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Explosive hazards in Mosul a major threat for years to come 

The classroom of 13-year-old boys was vibrant, filled with energy, as the final lesson of the day began, addressing a serious topic. One of the guest instructors held up posters of various suspicious objects. Some were more obviously mortars or hand grenades, but others appeared to be fun things, such as toys and dolls.

Representatives from the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), in coordination with the Iraqi Health and Social Care Organization, were delivering an explosive risk class at the Amer Abdullah School for Boys in Mosul, Iraq.

It may be the most important lesson the children there receive, as they face the daily risk of death or injury from unexploded ordnance (UXO). As Pehr Lodhammar, manager of the UNMAS Iraq program described it, “Western Mosul [in particular] has an explosive threat which is unlike anything we have seen in the past.

Click here to read the full story.

Germany now UNMAS’ largest contributor for clearance of explosive hazards in Iraq

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) welcomes an additional contribution of € 17 million ($20.2 million) from the Government of Germany towards survey and clearance of explosive hazards in support of humanitarian and stabilization initiatives.

The overall contribution, totalling € 44.2 million ($52.5 million) since 2016, makes the Government of Germany the most significant donor to UNMAS in Iraq.

The recent contribution of € 10 million to enable Humanitarian efforts and additional € 7 million to enable Stabilization initiatives is timely as the Government of Iraq seeks to facilitate the return of over more than three million people to their homes in liberated areas.

UNMAS will focus on risk education and clearance of public spaces to support the safe, dignified and voluntary return of Iraqis as well clear critical infrastructure providing electricity, water, health and education services. Activities will be focussed in Anbar, Salahadin, Kirkuk and Ninewa Governorates.

The conflict with ISIL in Iraq has resulted in complex and extensive explosive hazard contamination and has displaced more than three million people since 2014. Explosive hazards present a significant risk for individuals returning to their communities, as well as those providing the initial response, especially in urban areas where explosive items are buried in rubble and debris from collapsed buildings. Humanitarian actors are challenged to safely provide assistance and people have been forced to abandon their homes due to explosive hazards.

In November and December this year, a mobile training team led by Slovakia conducted a training course in manual demining for Iraqi Security Forces.

This was held in Iraq in the framework of NATO‘s training and capacity building activities in support of Iraqi security forces and institutions. It was developed and implemented in coordination with the NATO Core Team in Baghdad.

Twenty-one students from the Ministry of Defence attended the course. Upon completion seventeen of them were certified as instructors; four were awarded with certificates of basic demining.”Most of the students were experienced explosive ordnance disposal personel and were really eager to learn new techniques,” the Commander of the Slovak Training Team, 2ndLieutenant Lukáš Cabovsky, said.

Following the liberation of Iraq from Da’esh/ISIS, more clearance of explosives is required. ‎Civilians are often the victims, as Da’esh/ISIS are reported to have planted bombs and other explosive devices in heavily populated areas, as well as in schools and parks.

To deal with this, NATO is helping to build a sustainable Iraqi demining capacity by conducting a series of training activities for future Iraqi instructors. “Our contribution is focused exclusively on carrying out training tasks and on providing advice and assistance in support of the Iraqi forces,” 2nd Lieutenant Cabovsky highlighted.

Other training courses and seminars already conducted in the framework of NATO’s training and capacity building activities in support of Iraqi security forces and institutions have focused on countering improvised explosive devices, maintenance of Soviet-era armoured vehicles, military medicine, civil-military cooperation, reform of security institutions, and civil emergency planning to deal with natural emergencies.

(Source: NATO)

A program to remove unexploded ordnance (UXO) and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in and around the city of Mosul could cost $50 million, UN officials have said.

The UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) had previously estimated costs for Iraq as a whole at $50 million this year, but said this could double because of Mosul.

Paul Heslop, chief of UNMAS program planning and management section stated that as a result of the assessed contamination in Mosul we will need $50 million for the city alone in addition to $50 million for the rest of the country.

Heslop stated that “clearing urban areas of contamination is more complex and dangerous than minefields. You need a higher level of technical skill and complex equipment and it’s slower. As areas are liberated, you get a better idea of the level of contamination.

Heslop added that Iraq needs an Afghanistan-style (demining) operation, which at its peak about five years ago consisted of around 15,000 people.

(Source: GardaWorld)

(Picture: UNMAS)

NATO launched a new training programme in Iraq on Sunday (5 February 2017), teaching Iraqi security forces to counter Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). Around 30 enlisted soldiers are participating in the first five-week course.

NATO’s training and capacity building in Iraq is strengthening the country’s ability to fight ISIL and provide for its own security,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

NATO Allies are supplying protective equipment to Iraqi security forces as part of their training. The new counter-IED training scheme will run alongside NATO-run courses in Iraq on civil-military cooperation.

Since January 2017, NATO advisers have been working in the country, overseeing training activities and working with the Iraqi authorities to reform their security institutions.

NATO has been training Iraqi security forces in several areas, including counter-IED, explosive ordnance disposal and de-mining in neighbouring Jordan.  At the Warsaw Summit in July of last year, Allies agreed to expand this training into Iraq itself.

The Secretary General stressed that training Iraqi forces is an important part of NATO’s contribution to the fight against terrorism, which includes AWACS surveillance support to the Coalition against ISIL.

“The best weapon we have in the fight against terrorism is to train local forces,” said Mr. Stoltenberg, adding that “a more effective Iraqi military means a safer Iraq, and a more stable Middle East.”

(Source: NATO)

A report from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines says that forces of the so-called Islamic State (IS, also called ISIS or ISIL) fighting the government of Iraq have used victim-activated improvised mines, including explosive booby-traps, extensively since 2014.

Numerous media reports in 2015 and 2016 suggest widespread use of victim-activated devices by IS forces continues unabated.

Iraq stated in its annual transparency report for 2015 that the large IS-controlled areas in Nineveh and Al Anbar, and parts of Babil and Diyala, governorates are where they are “planting landmines, booby traps, and explosives devices.”

On 23 October 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that casualties among people fleeing the fighting during the government campaign on Mosul were caused by victim-activated IEDs (improvised mines).

The scale and complexity of IS’s use of improvised mines, including booby-traps, has been the subject of many media reports. According to Lt. Gen. Michael Shields, the director of the United State (US) Joint IED Defeat Organization, “ISIL does an incredible job of booby-trapping urban terrain as either they are still fighting in it or departing it, as has been proven in Fallujah and other places.”

During a January 2016 operational update from Baghdad, Army Colonel Steve Warren said that while clearing Ramadi is progressing, it’s “slow and it’s painstaking” because clearance teams have “literally found thousands of booby-traps, IEDs, buried explosives [and] houses rigged to explode with a single trip-wire.”

According to Zwer Mohammed, an officer from the Peshmerga bomb disposal teams in Kirkuk, “Since the beginning of the ISIS war in 2014, we have defused 10,000 bombs and booby traps left by ISIS. We defuse around 100 bombs on a daily basis in the liberated areas.”

Due to ongoing conflict in Iraq, the number of mine/ERW casualties continued to be significantly under-recorded. Only 58 mine/ERW casualties were recorded in Iraq, and as in past years, the number is thought to be much higher.

Unlike in Afghanistan where the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) records data more completely, a complete lack of disaggregation between command-detonated IEDs, including emplaced, body-borne, and vehicle-borne devices, and presumably victim-activated IEDs meant that the number of mine casualties remained obscured in Iraq.

In south and central Iraq, data for 2015 cluster munition casualties were not disaggregated due to the difficulties caused by continuing military operations against the so-called Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) preventing mine action casualty data recording coordination with relevant authorities in order to classify and complete the data.

Click here to download the full report.

(Source: International Campaign to Ban Landmines)

A report from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines says that forces of the so-called Islamic State (IS, also called ISIS or ISIL) fighting the government of Iraq have used victim-activated improvised mines, including explosive booby-traps, extensively since 2014.

Numerous media reports in 2015 and 2016 suggest widespread use of victim-activated devices by IS forces continues unabated.

Iraq stated in its annual transparency report for 2015 that the large IS-controlled areas in Nineveh and Al Anbar, and parts of Babil and Diyala, governorates are where they are “planting landmines, booby traps, and explosives devices.”

On 23 October 2016, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that casualties among people fleeing the fighting during the government campaign on Mosul were caused by victim-activated IEDs (improvised mines).

The scale and complexity of IS’s use of improvised mines, including booby-traps, has been the subject of many media reports. According to Lt. Gen. Michael Shields, the director of the United State (US) Joint IED Defeat Organization, “ISIL does an incredible job of booby-trapping urban terrain as either they are still fighting in it or departing it, as has been proven in Fallujah and other places.”

During a January 2016 operational update from Baghdad, Army Colonel Steve Warren said that while clearing Ramadi is progressing, it’s “slow and it’s painstaking” because clearance teams have “literally found thousands of booby-traps, IEDs, buried explosives [and] houses rigged to explode with a single trip-wire.”

According to Zwer Mohammed, an officer from the Peshmerga bomb disposal teams in Kirkuk, “Since the beginning of the ISIS war in 2014, we have defused 10,000 bombs and booby traps left by ISIS. We defuse around 100 bombs on a daily basis in the liberated areas.”

Due to ongoing conflict in Iraq, the number of mine/ERW casualties continued to be significantly under-recorded. Only 58 mine/ERW casualties were recorded in Iraq, and as in past years, the number is thought to be much higher.

Unlike in Afghanistan where the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) records data more completely, a complete lack of disaggregation between command-detonated IEDs, including emplaced, body-borne, and vehicle-borne devices, and presumably victim-activated IEDs meant that the number of mine casualties remained obscured in Iraq.

In south and central Iraq, data for 2015 cluster munition casualties were not disaggregated due to the difficulties caused by continuing military operations against the so-called Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL) preventing mine action casualty data recording coordination with relevant authorities in order to classify and complete the data.

Click here to download the full report.

(Source: International Campaign to Ban Landmines)

This article was originally published by Niqash. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The Iraqis Making Freelance Bomb Disposal Into A Lucrative New Business

Locals are struggling to get rid of the explosive booby-traps the Islamic State left as they withdrew from Ramadi. For one group of daring locals, defusing the bombs has become a lucrative new job opportunity.

In the central Iraqi city of Ramadi, it is no longer unusual to see individuals who look like ordinary civilians dismantling improvised explosive devices left behind by extremists as they withdrew from the city late last year. In fact, the extremist group known as the Islamic State, or IS, left behind so many improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, that the military and local security authorities don’t have the manpower or time to defuse them all. And locals, who know their way around a bomb, have been quick to take up the slack.

Some of them are former members of the military, others are moonlighting from the police or army to make some extra money and some are ordinary civilians with mechanical or engineering backgrounds who have learned how to defuse the IEDs, often using less sophisticated methods than dedicated bomb squads.

Faleh al-Marsoumi got involved in the lucrative new trade because it was taking far too long for authorities to come to his home and remove the booby trapped explosives. The usual procedure involves asking engineers who work for the local authorities to come and dismantle the dangerous devices.

Having heard that there were unofficial bomb disposal experts now working in the city, al-Marsoumi decided to pay one of these to clear his property. He had heard that the bomb disposal crews gathered on the outskirts of the city and that one could request them to come and work, in a similar way that one could employ freelance construction workers and manual labourers.

KRG Board of Environment and Mine Agency brief diplomats on their needs

The Department of Foreign Relations today hosted a special session for the KRG Board of Environmental Protection and Improvement and the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency (IKMAA) to brief diplomats on their activities, challenges, and needs.

Minister Falah Mustafa, Head of the KRG Foreign Relations, opened the session by welcoming the diplomats and representatives of the UN agencies and international organizations. The Minister stressed that environmental protection and land mine clearance have always been on the agenda of the KRG and hoped that the session would open lasting channels of communication and cooperation between the two KRG institutions and the foreign representation offices in Kurdistan.

Head of the KRG Board of Environmental Protection and Improvement, Mr. Abdurrahman Hama Raza, gave an overview of the state of the environment in the Kurdistan Region and KRG’s efforts to implement environmental protection measures and improve environment. Mr. Hama Raza highlighted the needs and challenges of the Board and called for technical assistance in order to implement the necessary measure required for securing a clean and safe environment. Mr. Hama Raza’s remarks were followed by a presentation in which the activities of the Board were presented.

Head of the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency (IKMAA), Mr. Mohammed Ismael, briefed diplomats on the formation, structure and the mission of IKMAA. He spoke of the challenges facing the IKMAA, the difficulties facing the Agency to defuse improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the areas liberated by Peshmerga forces, and the need for international support. Mr. Ismael called upon the international community to help IKMAA clear the remaining minefields in the Kurdistan Region and to demine the areas liberated from ISIS so that the displaced people would return to their hometowns.

On behalf of the diplomatic corps, the Consul General of Jordan, Haitham Abu Alfoul, who serves as the acting dean of the diplomats, commended KRG’s efforts in protecting the environment and clearing land mines in the Kurdistan Region, stressing that environmental protection and landmine clearance is a shared responsibility.

During the meeting, several diplomats and representatives exchanged their views on the activities of both institutions and expressed readiness to look into the means and ways of supporting the KRG Board of Environment and IKMAA.

(Source: KRG)