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Unexploded Cluster Bombs Continue to Threaten Iraqi Civilians - 2003-05-15

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines says unexploded cluster bombs continue to threaten Iraqi civilians long after the fighting has stopped. The group's former coordinator and current ambassador, Jody Williams, who shared the Nobel peace prize with the group for her disarmament efforts, discussed the matter at mine ban talks underway in Geneva.

Jody Williams says she may travel to Iraq to highlight the hazards posed by landmines and unexploded cluster bombs. Ms. Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for their work to bring about a global treaty banning mines.

Ms. Williams says Iraq is littered with mines and unexploded ordnance from two decades of war, in addition to the most recent conflict.

She says the International Campaign to Ban Landmines welcomes the fact that the United States did not use anti-personnel mines in Iraq. And she says cluster bombs should not have been used either. "They should not be used at all," she said. "There should be a moratorium until their impact is better understood."

The United States says it did not target civilian areas with cluster bombs, and it is working to remove those that did not explode.

Activists, like Paul Hannon, editor of the Landmine Monitor Report, say cluster bombs are dangerous because they are designed to destroy heavy armor, like tanks. When they explode near people, they can injure or kill anyone in a 150-meter area. One cluster bomb, he says, contains between 200 and 300 tiny "bomblets," and they often do not all immediately explode. Mr. Hannon says these are a long-term danger. "They become a problem for children because they are very attractive," he said. "They are a new weapon. Most people do not recognize the danger of them, and we are already seeing numerous reports of high fatality rates and high casualty rates of children due to cluster munitions in Iraq."

Mr. Hannon says hundreds of Iraqis have been killed or injured by cluster bombs. He and other activists, like Stephen Goose of Human Rights Watch, are urging that more and better information be given to Iraqis to warn them of the dangers of unexploded cluster bombs. Mr. Goose says that coalition forces are clearing Iraq of some of the cluster bombs they used. "Both the U.S. and U.K. have explosive ordnance disposal teams in Iraq right now," said Stephen Hannon. "The U.S. at this point, in quite large numbers, is starting to do some of the clearance tasks."

Mr. Goose says, normally, armies clear munitions that could affect their own troops. But this time, the coalition is going further to help in humanitarian clearance. He also says the United States and Britain are major donors to private organizations responsible for de-mining operations.

Mr. Goose adds that Iraq's former regime, while not using cluster bombs, did plant landmines, often in areas where they could easily harm civilians, like around mosques and near transportation facilities. He says the regime also placed mines along Iraq's border with Kuwait and in Kurdish areas in the north.