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Addressing the threat posed by IEDs

National C-IED initiatives: Middle East – Iraq

Threat

In the last five years Iraq was the country worst impacted by IEDs, according to AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor. Between 2011 and 2015 the country suffered 42,114 deaths and injuries from 2,266 IED attacks. Of these casualties, 87% (36,772) were civilians. However, there has been a substantial decrease in IED deaths and injuries in 2015, where the numbers dropped to the lowest they been for five years, after a substantial rise between 2011 and 2013.

Between 2013 and 2015, Iraq saw the deaths and injuries from IEDs per year drop by 64%. Whilst this decrease in IED attacks and victims represents progress, it should be noted that at the same time the lethality per IED incident has increased from 14 per incident in 2011, to 21 per incident in 2013, 2014 and 2015. This increased lethality of IED attacks is a similar pattern across many of the most impacted countries. While there may be much more that needs to be done, in many of the highly impacted countries, such as Iraq, there have also been great successes in the C-IED fight.

Capability

The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have faced serious threat from IEDs. Not only are the forces often targets but they are also often responsible for clearing areas once they have been liberated from IS control, leaving them further vulnerable to death and injury. Many within the Iraqi forces had already had direct experience with IEDs prior to IS’ proliferation of the weapons. However, given the increasing threat from IEDs, it has been the priority of many foreign governments to assist in the C-IED training of the security forces, so that they can respond to the threat adequately and better avoid force casualties.

Alongside Iraqi Forces, there is also the Kurdish Security Forces/Peshmerga, which chiefly operate across Iraq’s Kurdish region. Given the threat the Kurds face from groups such as IS and their IED use, it has been important for Kurdish Security Forces to increase their understanding of C-IED tactics. Their role in fighting IS in Iraq alone has significantly contributed to C-IED efforts in Iraq. The Peshmerga have disposed of over roughly 13,000 IEDs since 2014. Additionally, the Kurdish Security Forces have also been coordinating their intelligence efforts with the US. This has also helped the US with their Iraqi counter-terrorism and C-IED efforts.

They have worked cooperatively with many states engaged in counter-terrorism and C-IED efforts across the country and their C-IED training and equipment have benefited from these arrangements.

Both Iraqi Army and Peshmerga personnel have been involved in the land clearance of liberated areas. In October 2016, both were engaged in the clearance of IEDs in the villages around Mosul and they have had to cooperate in the clearing process, thereby dividing the tasks between the two forces. However, the Kurdistan Security Forces clearing these areas have reported a lack of equipment to carry out the task safely. A news article published in October 2016 reported that the Peshmerga forces defused the bombs with their bare hands, using only pliers. They wore no protective equipment, such as suits, gloves, helmets or shatter-proof glasses. Many also drove in unarmoured pick-ups trucks. They also asked for radio frequency-jamming devices to stop remote-controlled IEDs. It is clear that better equipment is needed.

Training

The US-led coalition forces started a Building Partnership Capacity (BPC) mission. This was designed to train Iraqi Army units in various tactical subjects to include C-IED, an area the Iraqi Army specifically requested training in. As part of this mission the Marines and the Danish Army provided a C-IED class for members of the Iraqi Army to teach them basic IED reaction and mitigation skills at Al Asad Air Base in January 2015. Other, foreign state actors such as the Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) provided additional assistance with C-IED training based on their own past experiences in Iraq.

Many task forces have also emerged as part of the BPC operation, which has played a vital part to help build C-IED capacities. Iraq has seen the creation of operations that include the Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), Task Force Al Asad (TFAA), and Task Group Taji (TG Taji). Many of these initiatives have focused on training, but have also seen provision of C-IED equipment for Iraqi forces. This engagement has seen a considerable improvement in military and police C-IED capabilities across Iraq.

TG Taji is a combined Australian-New Zealand military training force located at the Taji Military Complex northwest of Baghdad. The group consists of approximately 300 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel (drawn largely from the Australian Army’s 7th Brigade,) and 110 New Zealand Defence Force personnel. The aim of TG Taji is to support, train and build the capacity of the regular Iraqi Security Forces as part of BPC.

TG Taji’s main role is training, so the role of the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) and New Zealand Defence Forces (NZDF) troops is non-combative. This means the group is mostly comprised of trainers, as well as force protection, support and command elements. Much of this training involves C-IED work given the threat that IS poses by their IED use. TG Taji is undertaking the BPC mission at the request of both the Iraqi and US governments.

TFAA is made up of US Marines and Danish soldiers. The Task Force, as part of their other operations to support the Iraqi Security Forces in their fight against IS, developed a C-IED class for members of the Iraqi Army to teach them basic IED reaction and mitigation skills at Al Asad Air Base in January 2015. The Iraqi Forces received the same formal instruction Marines receive when learning how to combat IEDs. The training itself consisted of classes on the fundamentals of IEDs alongside practical application, with lanes marked with simulated IED indicators like exposed wires and danger areas. TFAA also taught the soldiers how to implement this C-IED knowledge into the planning of missions. C-IED equipment has been provided by the forces that are part of the TFAA. This equipment will be fundamental in learning C-IED tactics.

The CJTF-OIR was established in 2014 by the US-led coalition against IS to coordinate military efforts. The CJTF-OIR has prioritised C-IED work within their mission and has deployed C-IED training teams in order to augment other trainers at Taji, Besmaya and Asad. C-IED training has focused on IED detection and disposal, as well as intelligence and post-blast investigations.

By September 2015, it was believed that more than 8,000 Iraqi army and Peshmerga soldiers had been trained in various aspects of C-IED operations. This went beyond the regular training given to all BPC graduates. The UK, on its part, has trained over 2,170 members of the Kurdish Security Forces in C-IED tactics and techniques.

As part of the BPC operation, states including the US, UK, Italy, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Belgium have contributed to Peshmerga training. Training courses are conducted at the Kurdistan Training Coordination Center (KTCC) at the Bnaslawa training base just south of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. The C-IED aspect of the KTCC is considered by both the Peshmerga and the foreign forces, as one of the most important aspects of training.

Equipment

The Iraqi Army is in command of:

The CJTF-OIR issued a range of C-IED equipment to the Iraqi forces. The equipment has included: bulldozers, mine-clearing equipment and anti-armour weapons. Much of the equipment provided was also essential within training.

In June 2015 the UK Government gifted the Kurdish Security Forces with 1000 C-IED VALLON detectors. This supply of training and equipment to the Kurdish Security Forces has enabled them to continue to stem the IED threat.

Other equipment the Peshmerga has received includes 150 armoured vehicles from the US in 2015, of which 15 had mine-roller attachments which are used to detonate mines and IEDs.

International support

Coalition air forces in Iraq also have had an impact on C-IED capabilities. They have been responsible for destroying not only IS fighters themselves but also their IED factories and ammunition depots. This has a large impact on IS’ ability to carry out attacks if their equipment, facilities and men are destroyed. Unfortunately, this mainly impacts the scale of the IED threat as factories are not necessary to create IEDs. The necessary knowledge and explosive material are so widely spread in this conflict-inflicted area that individuals can manufacture IEDs in their homes and still have a substantial impact.

Not only have foreign governments and militaries significantly improved Iraq’s C-IED capabilities but international organisations, NGOs and mining organisations have also aided Iraq in coping with their national IED threat. These actors have played a range of C-IED roles, from IED clearance and training, to data collection and victim assistance.

The UN headquarters in Baghdad after the attack in August 2003. United Nations

United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)

The UNMAS has played an important role in Iraq, since their deployment to the country in June last year at the request of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) for Iraq and the Iraqi Mine Action Authorities. They have been instrumental in assessing the scale of the threat of UXO and ERW, predominantly IEDs, left by IS. Their impact threat assessments carried out so far have shown that the IED threat was beyond national capabilities due to the scale of the problem in the areas assessed. Based on these assessments, UNMAS have been formulating plans to address the threat, including not only IED clearance but also developing national C-IED capabilities and improving national IED threat mitigation policies and procedures.

UNMAS’ support in Iraq has also meant vital training has been provided in IED disposal, such as to the Iraqi Kurdistan Mine Action Agency (IKMAA) – the Kurdish Regional Government’s (KRG) demining agency. The IKMAA were highly skilled in the detection and destruction of landmines and most other ERW, but they had very little experience with IEDs – a weapon they were increasingly seeing. UNMAS provided training to 15 IKMAA personnel in IED disposal, with the help of Canadian funding, after the IKMAA requested this help. The Canadian government also provided six remote-operated demining robots in January 2015, to aid the work of Kurdistan forces in the region.

The training has impacted IKMAA’s ability to clear areas of IEDs before displaced persons return to homes that have recently been relieved of IS. A focus of IKMAA’s C-IED work has also been awareness raising and providing education on IEDs and the danger they pose to those returning to IS liberated areas. It was reported by a researcher at GICHD on Twitter in February 2016 that the IKMAA were going to be introducing eight new IED teams in four camps to address the threat of IEDs from IS.

NGO support

NGO’s have also been involved in C-IED work across Iraq. Recent successes have seen the Peshmerga forces work alongside NGOs to declare the town of Jalawla in Diyala Province safe. They had cleared almost 900 IEDs in just this town. In 2015, over 7000 IEDs were destroyed by Peshmerga forces. Although, over 180 of their soldiers were also killed by the popular IS weapon last year. The Peshmerga criticise the fact that the Iraqi Army receives more funding and equipment than them, which they feel is needed for them to continue to strengthen their C-IED and counter-IS efforts.

Conflict Armament Research

Conflict Armament Research (CAR) was established in 2011 as a private limited company. They have carried out extensive research into IED in Iraq, particularly those used by IS. CAR has generated multiple reports on IEDs in Iraq and Syria with the aim of supporting weapon management and control. Over the last year, CAR have produced three different pieces of research into IS’s IED use in Iraq. These include: “Turkish Fertilisers Used in Islamic State IEDs in Iraq”, “Inside Islamic State’s Improvised Weapon Factories in Fallujah”, and a 20-month investigation in Iraq and Syria, “Tracing the Supply of Components Used in Islamic State IEDs”. The research used iTrace, a project funded by the EU and German Government, to establish where IS’s weapons and weapon precursors came from, particularly for IEDs.

iTrace provides a public access weapons tracking database. This database serves as an independent monitor for the implementation of international arms control agreements, including the UN Programme of Action and the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). However, CAR’s findings about IEDs are not included in the iTrace database and are not made available on the publicly accessed portal of iTrace; these findings are only shared with rebel and state forces on the ground if needed.

CAR’s C-IED fieldwork consists of IED mapping, contamination mapping, some C-IED training, incident reporting of battlefield damage assessment, in-field recovery of IEDs and IED component parts (samples’ collecting), recovery of explosive precursors and some chemical agents, and components’ tracing, as well as technical and biometric exploitation in conjunction with the FBI. They do not use robots or any electronic counter-measures. Their C-IED activities are determined in discussion with local security forces.  They mainly engage in discussions with army and security forces on the ground to decide the nature of their C-IED activities, but they also engage with other, including non-state, forces in Iraq and Syria. In Iraq, these include: The Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units, the Iraqi Federal Police, the Kurdistan Region Security Council, the Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, Sunni Affairs, Hashd al-Shaabi, Hashd al-Anbar, Marji’iyya (Kerbala), ISOF/CTS, Anbar Governorate, Salah al-Din Governorate, Peshmerga, IKMAA.[i]

CAR field teams document suspected IEDs and related material in conflict-affected locations and trace their supply sources. Their latest reports highlight the speed at which IS forces have been able to acquire IED components and the lack of monitoring by national governments and companies. They point out to the progression and diversification of IED construction, particularly in Iraq and Syria and, to a certain extent, Lebanon. Their aim is to catalogue the changes in construction, different supplies in components, refinements in manufacturing technology, changes to reactions or resistance to electronic counter-measures. In short: “To better understand the logistics, dynamics, and mechanisms behind the network.”[ii] They then transfer the findings to forces on the ground who could benefit from them to counter any terrorist IED-related activity.

Though CAR is funded by the EU, German and UK governments, CAR completely self-funds its IED work, with the exception of its IED work Lebanon and the iTrace project. CAR’s personnel consist of six individuals working in multi-tasking roles (not specifically in C-IED roles) across Syria, Iraq, Libya and Lebanon. They do not have a specific C-IED team; their staffs recover and test IED components at the same time as other weapons. The staff is trained externally to perform C-IED work on the ground, and do not use any specific search equipment, only basic documentation material. James Bevan, CAR’s Executive Director expressed that though they do not face equipment shortages, they would like to access more funding to allow them to acquire better, more advanced, testing materials.

Danish Demining Group

The Danish Demining Group (DDG) has worked in Southern Iraq’s Basra governorate, since 2003.They have successfully provided Mine/ERW Risk Education (MRE) and performed Community Liaison (CL) work in addition to Battle Area Clearance (BAC) and EOD.

The DDG has also established themselves in northern Iraq, impacted by the recent conflict in 2015, particularly within the Erbil and Duhok governorates, jointly with other Danish Refugee Council (DRC) operations. One of the main aims was to deliver MRE so that people were able to identify, avoid and report mines, ERW and IEDs. The other aim was to provide emergency EOD. The MRE initially focused on IDPs and refugees in highly impacted areas, who were highly likely to face contaminated areas if they try to return to their homes. On-going needs assessments are carried out for ERW contamination alongside other EOD actors in Iraq.

DDG employs 90 local and four expatriate staff in four offices (Dohuk, Erbil, Baghdad and Basra). In addition, DDG carries out on-going needs assessment related to ERW contamination, engaging in survey work and coordination with other mine action actors such as the IKMAA, the Directorate of Mine Action (DMA) and the wider NGO community.

Mines Advisory Group

In 1991, Human Rights Watch approached the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) for help in carrying out an impact assessment of landmines on civilians in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, at which point MAG started providing a MRE programme to those at risk. In 1992, MAG joined forces with Human Rights Watch, Medico International, Handicap International, Physicians for Human Rights, and Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation to form the lobbying coalition International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). MAG also introduced in the late 90’s Community Liaison teams – made up of local people –to find out about landmines and UXO problems by asking those affected. In Iraq, MAG works in coordination with the IKMAA.

IEDs found in Iraq in 2005. U.S. Federal Government

In more recent years MAG has been clearing landmines and UXO from hazardous land for the safe establishment and expansion of camps for displaced people and Syrian refugees in northern Iraq, as well as delivering risk education for those fleeing the violence. They have provided clearance work as well as awareness-raising sessions with displaced Iraqi families since June 2014. In late 2014, MAG was said to be the only international humanitarian demining NGO left doing clearance work in Kurdistan. MAG has been conducting awareness-raising sessions with IDPs since June 2014. The education aims to increase awareness of the potential explosives dangers, particularly IEDs, now and when they return. They also carry out clearance in areas where active hostilities have ceased. They must be careful as a humanitarian mine clearance operator in a conflict situation to not engage in clearance in support of ongoing military operations.

The tools used by MAG to detect and destroy landmines are manual deminers (using metal detectors), mechanical resources and mine detection dogs. Using a combination of all of them is often referred to as the “tool box”, or integrated approach to landmine clearance. MAG also deploys EOD teams in immediate response to reports of UXO found on land by local communities.

Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD)

The FSD has also been aiding the recent efforts in Kurdistan, including training. More often though, they have been providing assistance in clearance operations to defeat the IEDs, mines and other UXO/ERW left by IS when they have been forced out of or abandoned an area.

Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP)

With support from the US, iMMAP provides operational management and victim assistance support, to help with data collection and treating victims of IEDs and other UXOs.

Handicap International

It currently employs 66 national staff and six expatriates in Iraq. Handicap International’s initial response focused on emergency response initiatives, rehabilitation, and support for Disable People’s Organisations (DPOs), to meet the needs of displaced Iraqis. It provides education sessions on the risks posed by ERW, as well as physical therapy and psychological support to refugees who have been injured and/or disabled by IEDs. It also provides professional safety training and other capacity building activities, as well as micro-financing opportunities for DPOs.

Early in 2016, Handicap International moved into weapons clearance and launched its first weapons clearance actions in the governorates of Kirkuk and Diyala. Clearance operations will start in these regions, after several months of preliminary non-technical surveys and the marking of contaminated areas. Non-technical surveys are being conducted to map and mark areas contaminated by ERW and IEDs from past wars and recent contamination in areas that were occupied by the Islamic State.

Handicap International is waiting for the final approvals from the Iraqi authorities to launch its first official mine action activities. The organisation’s clearance operations are supposed to start in the latter half of 2016, particularly in the city of Jalawla and its surroundings in the Diyala Governorate. This city has seen considerable fighting and residents are still unable to access many of the neighbourhoods. Booby traps and IEDs are still present in many streets, homes, and buildings. Handicap International’s mine action activities, which include weapons clearance, victim assistance, and risk education, will all be conducted in Jalawla, pending the go ahead from the relevant Iraqi authorities.

Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA)

The NPA was involved in Humanitarian Disarmament in Northern Iraq from 1995 to 2009. In 2010, NPA established an Advisory and Support Humanitarian Disarmament project in Basra, southern Iraq, with the objective to capacity build the operations and quality assurance and control departments within the Regional Mine Action Centre South (RMACS).

NPA has been working with the Regional Mine Action Centre South (RMACS) to build capacity for coordination, tasking, and data management since 2011. Currently, NPA is conducting BAC, Non-Technical Survey and Risk Education in the provinces of Missan and Basra. Mapping and clearing cluster munitions is the priority, and the NPA hopes to eradicate the cluster munition problem in Missan by 2017.

The NPA is also creating its first C-IED team in northern Iraq, to start operating in 2017. Bjørn Skodvin Hannisdal, a Humanitarian Disarmament Specialist at NPA, expressed they can only provide traditional C-IED methods for research and clearance due to lack of funding. He insisted that the biggest difficulty they are facing is the lack of personnel suited for this kind of jobs. The key, he said, is “to find the right people for this kind of work, with the limited resources available to us”. They are facing difficulties in finding ex-military staff with the relevant experience in C-IED work.

Private companies

Janus Global Operations (JGO)

The US Department of State awarded JGO, and their Iraqi subcontractor Al Bahad, a $20 million contract to conduct demining efforts throughout Ramadi in April 2016. A further $5 million was awarded in July 2016. JGO worked in partnership with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, former Anbar Governor Suhaib al-Rawi, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), and the United Nations Development Program’s Funding Facility for Immediate Stabilization (FFIS), in Iraq to tackle the UXO and IED threat. They have already removed hundreds of IEDs and booby-traps, as well as other abandoned munitions. Operations look to be expanding beyond Ramadi, into areas such as Fallujah, Nineveh and Karmah.

Dynasafe

Another company, Dynasafe, have been operating in Iraq since 2008 as a fully licensed and accredited entity with a regional office in Erbil to support operations. In this time it has conducted over 50 clearance projects. Dynasafe dog teams protect against IEDs – 20 canine projects have been established in Iraq to aid in the C-IED efforts. Though they appear to have predominantly worked with private companies against the contamination threat posed to the success and safety of the company operating in Iraq, the work has seen them survey and clear large swaths of land. They are currently involved in support operations, searching vehicles, baggage and people.

To see the areas of the published report, see here. To see a list of all the C-IED actors examined as part of the project, please go here. To read the full report, ‘Addressing the threat posed by IEDs: National, Regional and Global Initiatives’, see here. To see those engaged in the Middle East, the Sahel, North Africa or other highly impacted countries please see here, here, here, and here respectively. This research was made possible by funding from the NATO Counter Improvised Explosive Devices Centre of Excellence (C-IED COE) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

[i] According to CAR questionnaire response and telephone conversations.

[ii] According to CAR questionnaire response.