A new development project is taking place on former minefields in northern Iraq, bringing hope of a better future in a region that suffered tremendously under the Saddam Hussein regime.
The village of Dasht Mir Sari in Dohuk governorate was destroyed by Saddam Hussein’s military in 1986, during the genocidal Anfal campaign against the mainly Kurdish population of northern Iraq.
As many as 180,000 civilians were killed under the command of Saddam's cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid – known as “Chemical Ali” for using poison gas in the ethnic cleansing – and an estimated 2,000-4,000 villages destroyed.
Like hundreds of thousands of others, those who lived in Dasht Mir Sari were forced to move away to one of the many ‘collective towns’ that were set up by the regime to control the Kurdish population and smother logistical support to the Peshmerga forces who opposed it.
With inhabitants of these new towns kept under the strict control of the military, freedom of movement was heavily restricted and employment opportunities non-existent. Meanwhile, military positions were installed in and around Dasht Mir Sari, and the village was heavily mined.
The military was eventually forced out of Dasht Mir Sari by the Peshmerga during the Kurdish uprising of 1991, but, as the presence of landmines meant most of the agricultural land was unsafe to use, few families decided to come back home.
Those who did, like Salam Shukri, risked life and limb. “Many lives were lost in these minefields after we returned,” he recalls. “Some families left the village because they lost their animals and beloved ones in landmine accidents.”
Mine Risk Education and landmine clearance
MAG came to Dasht Mir Sari in 2006, to give vital risk education to residents living in fear of the hidden dangers on their land, and began clearing the minefields in 2008. Mine clearance is painstaking work, so land is prioritised – that which is most needed is addressed first. Once an area is declared safe, it is handed back to the community.
Clearance of Dasht Mir Sari’s final minefield was completed in June 2012 and local authorities are now implementing one of the biggest infrastructure development schemes in the region.
The ‘New Zakho project’ will bring a primary school and health centre, improved water and electricity supplies, and new housing to Dasht Mir Sari, and is expected to see the current population of 250 treble following its planned completion in late 2013.
A better future
“The cleared land helped us a lot,” says Mr Shukri. “The New Zakho housing project will help families resettle in their village.”
“Now that my land is safe, I plan to grow wheat and barley so it can be sold in the local market, and part of the land will be used by local shepherds for grazing their animals. My family of 10 will have a much better future now.”
“If it wasn’t for the efforts of MAG, the development couldn’t take place. Everyone here thanks MAG and its donors.”
MAG's work in Dasht Mir Sari was carried out thanks to funding from Act For Peace.