BAIJI, IRAQ: Farmers and herders in Iraq’s Baiji say mines left by Daesh turned their beloved orchards into killing fields.
The improvised explosive devices (IEDs), planted by militants trying to fend off Iraqi troops in 2015, have also discouraged scores of families from returning to their battered farming towns around Baiji, in the north of the country.
“Daesh’s ghosts are still here. Their crimes are still there, under the earth,” said local official Abu Bashir. His thin face contorted into a grimace as he recalled his loss to those “ghosts” — both his sons.
Lahib, 21, has also been touched by Daesh’s deadly legacy.
“We got our houses back but the remnants of war are still there. Daesh left us with booby-trapped homes,” he said. “One of these homes blew up on my uncle. I saw it with my own eyes.”
The loss pushed him to join Halo Trust, a nonprofit group clearing unexploded ordnance in Baiji since June as part of the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS). In temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius, Halo Trust mine searchers scanned a field near Baiji for a Daesh specialty: Plastic jerrycans packed with explosives and rigged to pressure plates.
Mine searchers used excavators to map out the bombs, then mechanically defused them so Iraqi troops could take the components away.
In Baiji alone, 340 explosive hazards were removed since UNMAS operations began, with up to 25 IEDs uncovered daily.
UNMAS says the scope and complexity of IED contamination in Daesh-controlled areas is “unprecedented,” with tripwires painted to blend in with surroundings
and even Iraqi currency turned into bombs.
The fear of undiscovered threats has kept around 100 families away from the area, said Abu Mohammad, another local official.