Learning the Dangers of Improvised Explosive Devices in IraqFighting in Iraq has left a deadly legacy of bombs, grenades and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in areas formerly held by Islamic State. The risks for civilians are great but often unknown, with these devices coming in the form of everyday objects, like toys, books and shoes. The Danish Demining Group (DDG) has reached over 220,000 people this year in its Risk Education sessions, which aim to increase awareness of threats and reduce casualties.
Stories of experiences with IEDs and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) are easy to come by in Iraq, with many left behind as reminders of Islamic State control. As the approximately three million civilians displaced by the fighting begin returning to their hometowns, the risk of casualties from these is rising, compounded by ongoing insecurity and lack of essential services. “Risk Education is needed to ensure that peoples’ return is taking place as safely as possible in one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world”, says DDG Mine Risk Education Project Manager in Iraq, Noe Falk Nielsen.
The rise of Islamic State brought with it the proliferation of IEDs alongside more common weapons. IEDS are often disguised in everyday objects, heightening the danger. As Muhammed from the Kemyawe refugee camp describes, “We were living in peace when the terrorists entered our town and engaged with the security forces. The fight lasted for a while, but when the security forces came closer to the terrorists, the latter planted mines, UXOs and IEDs wherever they could: roads, houses and farms”.
This has already led to the injury and death of numerous civilians unaware of how to identify and avoid IEDs and ERW. In Fallujah, eight year old Sajjad told DDG staff of a time he was playing in the streets when he found an object he had never seen before. “I did not know it was dangerous”, he explained, until he threw the object and it exploded. He suffered nerve damage to his left hand as a result.
Ten year old Omer also suffered injury after an explosion from an unexploded mortar hiding in the debris of his family home. The accident, which occurred while he and his family were trying to clean and rebuild their home, represents the immense risk displaced people face upon their return.
Through risk education sessions, Nielsen describes, “DDG will work to make people understand the very real threat explosive remnants pose to lives, limbs and livelihoods and seek to make people adopt safer behaviour, aiming at reducing the number of victims as people start returning in numbers”. DDG delivers sessions in refugee camps, schools and in communities more broadly, and distributes cards and posters to help spread the message once the sessions have ended.
Risk Education in a Mosul School. Photo by: Noe Falk Nielsen
Muhammed from Kemyawe Camp explained the benefit of risk education for himself and his family: “While the fight was still running we moved to Kemyawe Camp and there we took Risk Education lectures by DDG teams. These lectures were so useful to us. It taught us about mines, UXOs and IEDs, and how careful we must be when we deal with these explosives”. After the liberation by security forces, he and his family were able to return home, remembering what they had been taught.