BAGHDAD — Twenty-five percent of the world’s unexploded land mines are buried in Iraq, making it one of the most contaminated countries, the environment ministry said yesterday. More than 20 million mines are scattered in the war-plagued nation, deputy environment minister Kamal Hussein Latif said.
“That has become a heavy legacy on the country that hobbles its economy and health,’’ Latif told reporters in Baghdad.
Many of the land mines date to the 1960s, when Iraq launched military operations to quell the Kurdish rebellion in the north. But they also are a legacy of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, when Saddam Hussein’s regime planted them in the desert near the border, along with the first Gulf War in 1991 and the US-led invasion that toppled Hussein in 2003.
“They were planted randomly and no maps were left from the previous regime,’’ Latif said.
The mines have affected development, particularly in the oil sector because so many mines were laid in the northern Kurdish region, around major oil infrastructure.
Iraq will probably clear about 70 percent of the mines by 2018, but the process is slow because of staff shortages and other problems, Latif said. About 20 private companies and a few nongovernmental organizations assist with the effort.
Land mines and unexploded ordnance killed or injured an average of two Iraqis every week in 2009, the UN says. Eighty percent of victims were males age 15 to 29.
Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq, but deadly shootings and bombings still occur every day.
Yesterday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosives belt at a car dealership in northwest Iraq. The blast killed three people and wounded seven.
Monday night, gunmen killed six people sleeping in their home in an Al Qaeda stronghold south of Baghdad.