Iraqi wars' deadly legacy: unexploded ordnance - in pictures

In the northern Iraqi hamlet of Hassan-Jalad, almost every family has a story to tell about a time when a child, nephew or brother was killed by wartime munitions

All photos: AFP

The area around Hassan-Jalad, near Mosul, a former ISIS stronghold, is littered with unexploded ordnance. "We are afraid for the children," said Awad Qado, a local. 'We show them the routes to take, the places to avoid. We tell them not to pick up things they find on the ground.' In 2017 Mr Qado's family was struck by a landmine explosion in the hamlet of about 50 homes. Two of Mr Qado's nephews were killed while tending to their herd. His son was injured and a fourth man's legs were severed in the blast, which also killed some livestock.

An instructor from Global Clearance Solutions, a private demining company, gives a workshop to children on how to report suspected cases of landmines and unexploded ordnance. Across Iraq, about 100 children were killed or injured between January and September by remnants of conflict, according to the UN. In Iraq, which has one of the world's highest unexploded ordnance 'contamination rates', almost one in four people is exposed to risk, non-government groups say. In the area around Hassan-Jalad, more than 1,500 explosives were found in one year, said Alaa al-Din Moussa, head of operations for the private demining company GCS. 'In this region, every house has a story,' he said. 'Many children are dead. Hundreds of animals have entered fields and triggered explosives.'

Clearing ordnance is painstaking and dangerous work. Ordnance awaiting disposal is left in a desert area behind a banner that reads 'STOP'. The explosives are classed in several categories including: 107-millimetre rockets, right, 130mm rockets, left, 23mm projectiles and VS500 mines.

Mosul and the western province of Anbar are among the most affected areas, as are other former ISIS strongholds. 'We see a lot of contamination in built-up urban areas,' said Pehr Lodhammar, programme chief of the UN Mine Action Service in Iraq, said. 'Explosive hazards and explosive contamination are making it much more difficult for people to return to their homes and to resume a normal life.'

More than 1.2 million people are displaced in the country as a result of successive conflicts. The fighting left the borders with Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia littered with landmines and unexploded remnants of war, according to a report by the France-based group Humanity & Inclusion. 'Iraq is one of the countries most heavily contaminated by explosive ordnance on Earth,' the organisation said in a report in October. 'Explosive remnants of war affect more than 3,200 square kilometres of land – twice the area of London. A staggering 8.5 million Iraqis live amid these deadly waste products of war.'

A key challenge is raising awareness to allow people to change their behaviour in the face of danger. As a result of sessions held for children and adults, there have been success stories, said Ghaith Qassid Ali, who helps run GCS's awareness programme in the Mosul area. As a result of the sessions, children playing in a field 'saw a projectile, remembered the photos a team had shown them and warned us', Mr Ali said.

Mr Ali said the ordnance phenomenon poses major economic challenges: 'The majority of inhabitants of this village are farmers, but most of the land is contaminated by remnants of war.' Abdallah Fathi, 21, is living proof of the tragedy wrought by wartime munitions. In 2014, he was tending to his herd when a mine exploded. He lost both his legs, his left hand and several fingers on his right hand. 'Before, I used to work, but now I can do nothing, carry nothing, not even cement blocks,' he said. 'I stay at home all day, I don't go out.'

Updated: December 9th 2021, 8:37 AM