Handicap International began its weapons clearance operations in Iraq in January 2017. Since then, the organization has destroyed more than 2,000 explosive remnants of war in areas affected by heavy fighting.
Outside Kirkuk, Iraq, Handicap International weapons clearance experts dressed in blue protective gear inspect a field, under the curious gaze of locals. “This area was heavily contaminated by bombing in 2003,” says Nizar Abdul Karim, technical manager of Handicap International’s weapons clearance operations in Iraq. “We are dealing explosive remnants of war from more than a decade of fighting. There are still a lot of cluster bombs from the beginning of the Iraq War, for example.”
Slightly further away, closer to a village, one of the Handicap International risk education teams is hard at work. “Before 2014, more than 70 families lived in this village, but they had to flee,” says Nizar. “This area has seen heavy fighting and we are just a few miles from the front lines. Before people return to the area, our teams mark dangerous zones heavily contaminated with explosive remnants of war to help people avoid injury.”
Wherever they operate, Handicap International tries to work closely with local people. “You’re doing very important work,” a villager tells Nizar. “I’m glad you’ve put up these signs around the village so that people know that they can’t farm this field or even approach it before you come to clear it of explosives.”
One woman says: “I returned to the village five or six months ago, with my family. When we arrived outside our house, we found a shell in the garden. Handicap International’s teams came and destroyed it. Since then, I feel confident enough to let my children play outside again.”
Handicap International has destroyed more than 2,000 explosive remnants of war in Iraq in just two months. But the road ahead is long: After several decades of conflict, Iraq is one of the most contaminated countries in the world.