BAGHDAD — The general director of the Iraqi Environment Ministry’s landmines department said Saturday that there are 25 million landmines occupying 1,700 kilometers of Iraqi soil, which in turn threatens 2,117 civilian communities, where 2.7 million citizens live.

“Between 80,000 and 100000 Iraqis have lost parts of their bodies because of landmines,” Engineer Eissa al-Fayad told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

“Iraq is considered one of the countries severely affected by landmines, and this affects the daily life of the citizens because this issue hampers humanitarian aid and development and reconstruction projects,” he explained.

“The landmines department was established after the toppling of the former regime in 2003 and was part of the Planning Ministry before it became a part of the Environment Ministry in March 2008,” he said.

He released a message sent by the adviser of the UN Development Program for mines affairs, Kent Bawlson, to the director of operations in the Iraqi prime minister’s office, Ali al-Yasseri, in which the UN adviser demanded the lifting of a ban imposed by the Defense Ministry on nongovernmental organizations and companies working with mines for humanitarian purposes in central and southern Iraq.

“The UN official warned of the danger Iraq faces if the ban continues, a matter which will lead to spreading the feeling among international donors that Iraq no longer needs their help and may lead them to withdraw their amounts allocated to Iraq for the landmines program, reaching $40 million in Iraq,” Fayad said.

Regarding the casualties from mines after 2003, the Iraqi official said that “we have official statistics from nine provinces regarding landmine casualties: 16 in Karbala, 24 in Najaf, 36 in Qadissiya, 18 in Wassit, 5 in Babel, 157 in Basra, 71 in Missan, 32 in Muthanna, and 47 in Thi-Qar.”

Last week, a senior official in charge of de-mining efforts at Iraq’s Environment Ministry warned that staff and other resources are insufficient to eliminate the threat posed to civilians by the estimated 25 million mines and other unexploded devices.

Eissa Rahim Dakhil added that Iraq needs international assistance to handle the problem.

Dakhil said that the 950 Defense Ministry employees devoted to de-mining efforts are too few to be effective in the country.

He added that Iraq, a signatory to the Ottawa Landmines Convention, is obliged under international law to remove all such unexploded devices.

The Iraqi government says most of the 25 million unexploded mines across the country are in Iraq’s border areas, stretching from Turkey and Iran in the north down to Kuwait in the south.

The mines were laid during the Iraq-Iran war from 1980 to 1988, the first Gulf War in 1991, and the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which toppled Saddam Hussein.

Iraq signed the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel mines in 2007. However, the poor security situation has delayed some mine clearance operations.

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