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IS Leaves Deadly Legacy of Explosive Hazards in Iraq

FILE - Mine clearers search for mines and explosive devices at Hammam al-Alil city, south of Mosul, Iraq, July 29, 2017.

The U.N. Mine Action Service reports Islamic State militants have left a deadly legacy of tens of thousands of explosive hazards and improvised explosive devices in cities throughout Iraq, preventing the safe return of people to the homes they were forced to flee.

War in Iraq has displaced nearly six million people since 2014. More than half since have gone home, but the U.N. Mine Action Service reports an estimated 2.6 million people remain displaced.

It says cities retaken from Islamic State militants are heavily contaminated with explosive hazards, improvised explosive devices, other lethal weapons, preventing people from returning home safely.

It says as soon as areas are liberated, risk assessment teams are deployed to survey the situation, with clearance activities following as soon as possible.

UNMAS Senior Program Manager Pehr Lodhammar says 45,000 explosive hazards and 750 improvised explosive devices have been removed from several retaken areas. Explosive hazards refers to ammunition that has been fired, but has failed to function.

Lodhammar says clearance operations now are mainly focused on Fallujah and on western Mosul, which was retaken by Iraqi government forces and a U.S.-led coalition in July 2017. He describes conditions in Western Mosul as very dangerous.

“The need is so big. Basically, in western Mosul, we find explosive hazards in every street, every house, every alley, every piece of infrastructure there are explosive hazards.... People are publicly stating that they will not return to their homes and their houses because of explosive hazards, because they know there is contamination.”

Lodhammer says clearing explosive hazards must occur before any rehabilitation or reconstruction work in Iraq can be carried out. He estimates it will take more than a decade before western Mosul is cleared.

He says UNMAS will need an additional $216 million beyond what it already has received for clearance and stabilization operations in Iraq this year.