Peace Time: Iraq And The American Gift

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February 7, 2012: In the last nine years the U.S. has spent over $200 million in Iraq to clear huge quantities of Saddam era landmines and munitions. Since 2003, this American effort has cleared mines and unexploded shells from 3.9 million square kilometers of land. Most of this was along the Iranian border, where the 1980s Iran-Iraq war didn't officially end until Saddam was overthrown in 2003 and, two years later, the newly elected Iraqi government officially apologized to Iran for starting the war.

U.S. troops destroyed most of Saddam's munitions in the eight years after the 2003 invasion. Saddam had stockpiled millions of tons of bombs, shells, and other explosive devices. A small fraction of that was used for some 100,000 roadside bombs and mines built by Sunni Arab terrorists during their five year campaign to overthrow the new democratic government.

In the year before U.S. troops left in late 2011, most of the stuff blown up was American ammo that was either defective or not worth shipping back to the United States. Before that, there were over five million tons of munitions lying about after the 2003 invasion. Most of it has apparently been destroyed or locked up. Saddam had lots of ammo left over from the 1980s war with Iran and he never threw anything away or used much of it for training. Coalition, and eventually Iraqi, EOD troops set to work finding, and blowing up, the stuff ever since 2003. But you rarely hear, or see, any of the spectacular explosions that the EOD people were setting off all the time, especially in 2004 and 2005. The destruction of old ammo was so successful that by 2006 many roadside bombs were using fertilizer (ammonium nitrate) for explosives. This stuff works, and Iraq is a largely agricultural country, with lots of ammonium nitrate about. But fertilizer bombs are bulkier, and trickier to set off, than artillery shells or military grade explosives.

Clearing all those minefields, and border areas where so many unexploded shells and bombs lay buried, was a big boost for the Iraqi economy. The clearance allowed farming and livestock herds to move back into the border areas. There are still some foreign demining operations in Iraq, usually paid for by the United States, to clear Russian mines planted by Saddam's troops. But much of the mine and explosives clearing is now handled by the Iraqis.

 


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