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ACAPS Briefing Note: Iraq - Mine action (22 January 2021)

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For many years, Iraq has been one of the most contaminated countries by landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) – and remains so today. Legacy-mined areas account for most known contamination, and result from the 1980–1988 war with Iran, the 1991 Gulf War, and the 2003 invasion by the US-led coalition. They include barrier minefields along Iraq’s borders with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The occupation of large areas of Iraq by Islamic State (IS) also resulted in extensive contamination, with improvised mines and other explosive devices (IEDs) deliberately left behind by IS. The conflict displaced more than 5.8 million people between 2014–2017 and the level of contamination continues to hamper safe, sustainable, dignified, and voluntary returns. Despite stabilisation efforts and the end of major military operations, as at December 2020 over 1.3 million individuals were registered as being internally displaced in Iraq, while 4.8 million were returnees (IOM 31/12/2020).

Several factors are challenging mine action operations in Iraq. The level and type of contamination is a challenge in itself, as it is complex and exceeds the capacity of existing resources to address it. While operators are focused on clearing legacy-mined areas, the conflict has raised strategic and operational questions from clearance organisations. Improvised mines and explosive booby traps represent a considerable technical challenge, especially as they are located in urban settings. Political instability, the persistence of disputes over territories, access, security concerns, and administrative constraints also continue to create challenges. Weak coordination between the national authorities and local and international operators and the multiplicity of clearance operators – both humanitarian and private – also result in overlaps and mismanagement of priorities for mine action. Finally, the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across Iraq has forced many humanitarian actors to reduce their operations, including in mine action. Programmes have slowly been resuming since August 2020.


This note consolidates information from a range of credible, publicly available sources, including UN agencies, governments, international and local NGOs, the media, desk reviews, and international monitors. Interviews were also conducted between August–September 2020 with humanitarian organisations working on mine action in Iraq. The main limitation to this briefing note is that mine-action information management and access to reliable data remain a major challenge in Iraq.


Explosive hazards are one of the main barriers to the safe, sustainable, dignified, and voluntary return of all IDPs. Clearance is an essential first step.

Risk education activities are essential to reduce the number of injuries and deaths in contaminated areas. Currently, an estimated 8.5 million people in Iraq are vulnerable to the risk of landmines and IEDs.

Victim assistance is a priority in mine action. Victims need health, rehabilitation, and psychosocial support, as well as livelihood and financial means and access to essential services, including inclusive social and education services.

Rehabilitation and reconstruction of infrastructure are critical to re-establishing basic services and to get people home.


This briefing note provides an overview of mine action needs and operations in Iraq.

It is structured in the following way:

  • Level of contamination

  • Most contaminated areas

  • Mine action management in Iraq

  • Response capacity and geographic coverage

  • Mine action access constraints

  • Affected population and humanitarian needs