Iraq’s Explosive Plague
April 15, 2019
A changing climate has unleashed plagues of biblical proportions on Iraq in recent years. From dens of snakes attacking Iraqi villagers to a swarm of locusts descending on Baghdad, hotter and drier summers increasingly are driving pests into populated areas.
More severe winter weather is also bringing new dangers. Unusually bad flooding last December killed dozens of Iraqis and displaced tens of thousands more.
These biblical floods are also unleashing a new and entirely man-made plague. Iraq is one of the most landmine-affected countries in the world, and each year flood waters bring hundreds of pieces of unexploded ordnance to the surface. An estimated 38 million mines which were placed along the Iranian border during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s have yet to be removed, and millions more were laid during the two U.S.-led wars in Iraq. Most recently, the fight against the Islamic State group further exacerbated the problem while also halting international efforts to clear mines.
Flood waters wash away signs warning of the presence of mines, and also sweep bombs into towns and villages, causing hundreds of casualties each year. In addition to endangering human lives, the presence of mines prevents over a million Iraqi IDPs from returning safely to their homes, prolonging Iraq’s displacement crisis.
Mines also hurt Iraq’s economy. Migrating mines have rendered swaths of Iraq’s agricultural lands unusable and destroyed infrastructure. With severe winter flooding becoming the new normal in the region and millions of pieces of unexploded ordnance still buried, the plague of floating mines is set to become an annual occurrence.
This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.