IRAQ: Development project brings a "dead place" to life

by Mike Fryer / MAG (Mines Advisory Group) | @MAGsaveslives | MAG (Mines Advisory Group)
Tuesday, 28 May 2013 11:37 GMT

Sore Ismail, with her grandchild. Her husband lost his leg when he stepped on a landmine while collecting wood two decades ago: “We thank MAG. We feel free – we can go where we like and the children can play where they like.” [Photo: Mike Fryer / MAG]

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Imagine being forced to live with the constant fear that your next step might be your last.

That was the reality for the people of Dasht Mir Sari until MAG cleared the six minefields that had paralysed this rural northern Iraq village.

As in countless other communities in Dohuk – one of the three governorates in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan – landmines, mortars bombs and cluster submunitions littered the landscape as a result of three decades of conflict and unrest.

Everybody here knows of somebody who has been killed or seriously injured by a mine or piece of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Residents of Dasht Mir Sari reel off the list of tragedies in the area as if recounting the local football team’s cup successes: 1984, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2003...

Landmines and UXO don’t just kill and maim. They also make large areas of agricultural land unusable, causing food insecurity and poverty. They hamper post-conflict reconstruction. They leave communities living in fear.

“We felt like prisoners,” explains Idris Ahmed Othman, a landowner in his forties, who lost three of his nephews when they were killed in a mine accident. “We couldn’t let our sheep graze safely, we couldn’t go where we wanted, we couldn’t go for picnics with our families.”

This all changed after MAG cleared more than 152,000 square metres of land around Dasht Mir Sari, removing 224 anti-personnel mines, two anti-tank mines, eight BLU-97 cluster submunitions and 37 different types of UXO.

“Words cannot express how thankful we are,” says Idris, who has been able to grow 2,200 olive trees and 400 nut plants on land that had previously been too dangerous to step foot on. “MAG has given people their lives back. We’ll never forget what MAG has done for us.”

Clearance of Dasht Mir Sari’s final minefield was completed in June 2012, and wider benefits to the area are becoming visible. Across the road, lorries come and go as a huge new development project takes shape.

The New Zakho project will see 1,200 new houses and apartments built, along with a school, medical centre, fire station and shopping centre.

None of this development could take place had MAG not first made the area safe.

Ali Gharbi Hassan, General Manager of New Zakho, says: “This was a dead place and now it’s alive. Before, there was only one small road, but now we’re building this project and employing 1,000 people. And when the work is finished, lots of local people will earn a living here, in all types of different jobs. There’ll be a police station, supermarket and commercial centre, and a planned new university is awaiting approval from the Ministry of Higher Education.”

“We thank MAG. It’s very important that before we start a building project we know the land is not dangerous.” 

For more information on the landmine/UXO issue in Iraq please go to