The conflict between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s saw the Iraqi army lay landmines across the Kurdistan region of Iraq, along the border with Iran. Many of these minefields remain and continue to have a devastating effect on communities almost 40 years later.
Soran Sabir Kareem, a 37-year-old farmer, was reminded of the very real threat landmines still pose when he found himself trapped inside a minefield.
Soran, who buys and sells livestock, lives in Shams Awa, a small village in the Sulaymaniah Governorate. His Wednesday had started like any other—which, as a farmer, was early.
It was 8am when he received a call from Muhammed, one of the cattle herders he tasks with caring for his livestock. It wasn't good news. Muhammed told Soran how his cows had been attacked by a wolf. Muhammed had kept his cool and protected the majority of the herd but the wolf had managed to separate off some of the cows.
The animals are Soran's livelihood. He asked Muhammed to guide him to where he thought the separated cows might be.
When Soran made his way to the field, he was only half-prepared for the sight that confronted him—dead, injured and mutilated cows were spread across the grass. Soran realised something wasn't right. No wolf could be responsible for the carnage he saw laid out before him.
"When I approached the animals, I saw a mine next to a cow. Then I looked around and saw several other mines around me. That's when I knew I was in the middle of a minefield," Soran says of the moment he realised his herd had been not only savaged by a wolf but blown up by a landmine.
"When I approached the animals, I saw a mine next to a cow. Then I looked around and saw several other mines around me. That's when I knew I was in the middle of a minefield." Soran Sabir Kareem.
It appeared that the wolf had chased the cows into the minefield, killing one of the cows, and then setting off a landmine while dragging it away. The explosion killed the wolf and also five cows, injuring a further six.
The minefield was littered with a particularly vicious and indiscriminate type of landmine designed to be lethal up to a 25-metre radius, and dangerous up to a much farther distance.
"I thought it was the end of my life. I was afraid to even take one step," Soran recalls. But he stayed calm and called MAG’s emergency hotline.
MAG has been working to clear landmines in Iraq since 1992 and deployed an emergency landmine clearance team to get to Soran as soon as possible.
It was a tense waiting game. "When I was waiting for MAG, an injured cow was lying right next to a mine very close to me," he recalled. "I was very worried that the cow would move and set off the mine.”
MAG's clearance team was supervised by Chalak Taha, who recalls his first call with Soran. He advised him to stay still so as to not frighten the cow.
“He said he wanted to push some mines away from him with his stick,” Chalak says. “But this might have set them off, so I also advised him not to do that.”
The MAG clearance team had been finishing for the day but upon hearing about the situation immediately made their way to Soran. Upon arrival, they worked as quickly as possible to clear an access lane and remove four landmines to give him a clear escape route.
Soran was more than a little relieved to see them arrive. "I felt like I was reborn because I knew I was going to survive."
Tawfiq Qadir Omar, one of the leaders of the MAG clearance team, has worked for MAG since 1993. He said that he and the team took great pride in saving Soran.
“My team and I are always willing to deliver our aid and support to anyone in need,” he said. “Saving someone’s life feels almost like saving the whole world.”
“My team and I are always willing to deliver our aid and support to anyone in need, Saving someone’s life feels almost like saving the whole world.” Tawfiq Qadir Omar, MAG team leader.
Though he escaped unharmed, the experience has terrified Soran.
“I’m almost afraid to even walk in the street now,” he says. “I feel uncomfortable with the shepherds still walking in these areas. But we have no choice, we have to herd our livestock.”
Iraq is one of the world’s most landmine-affected countries. Landmines and unexploded bombs render thousands of square metres of land unusable and dangerous for families and communities across Iraq. This has recently been added to by improvised landmines and other explosive ordnance left behind by ISIS.
With the support of our donors, MAG clears landmines across Iraq and delivers risk education lessons to empower those at-risk to keep themselves safe and let them know how to report dangerous items.