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IRAQ: Development project brings a 'dead place' to life

The New Zakho project is bringing development and employment to northern Iraq

The New Zakho project is bringing jobs and improved infrastructure to Dohuk province in northern Iraq. Top row (left to right): New Zakho manager Ali Gharbi Hassan; work gets under way; some of the 1,000 people being employed on the project. Second and third rows: how the development will look once completed. 

Imagine being forced to live with the constant fear that your next step might be your last.

That was the reality for the people of Dasht Mir Sari until MAG cleared the six minefields that had paralysed this rural northern Iraq village.

As in countless other communities in Dohuk – one of the three governorates in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan – landmines, mortars bombs and cluster submunitions littered the landscape as a result of three decades of conflict and unrest.

Everybody here knows of somebody who has been killed or seriously injured by a mine or piece of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Residents of Dasht Mir Sari reel off the list of tragedies in the area as if recounting the local football team’s cup successes: 1984, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2003...

Landmines and UXO don’t just kill and maim. They also make large areas of agricultural land unusable, causing food insecurity and poverty. They hamper post-conflict reconstruction. They leave communities living in fear.

“We felt like prisoners,” explains Idris Ahmed Othman [pictured right], a landowner in his forties, who lost three of his nephews when they were killed in a mine accident. “We couldn’t let our sheep graze safely, we couldn’t go where we wanted, we couldn’t go for picnics with our families.”

Please donate to MAG's lifesaving work

This all changed after MAG cleared more than 152,000 square metres of land around Dasht Mir Sari, removing 224 anti-personnel mines, two anti-tank mines, eight BLU-97 cluster submunitions and 37 different types of UXO.

“Words cannot express how thankful we are,” says Idris, who has been able to grow 2,200 olive trees and 400 nut plants on land that had previously been too dangerous to set foot on. “MAG has given people their lives back. We’ll never forget what MAG has done for us.”

Clearance of Dasht Mir Sari’s final minefield was completed in June 2012, and wider benefits to the area are becoming visible. Across the road, lorries come and go as a huge new development project takes shape.

The New Zakho project will see 1,200 new houses and apartments built, along with a school, medical centre, fire station and shopping centre.

None of this development would be taking place had MAG not made the area safe first.

Ali Gharbi Hassan, General Manager of New Zakho, says: “This was a dead place and now it’s alive. Before, there was only one small road, but now we’re building this project and employing 1,000 people. 

"And when the work is finished, lots of local people will earn a living here, in all types of different jobs. There’ll be a police station, supermarket and commercial centre, and a planned new university is awaiting approval from the Ministry of Higher Education.”

“We thank MAG. It’s very important that before we start a building project we know the land is not dangerous.” 

MAG relies on donations to clear the remnants of war, such as landmines. Please donate online now. Your generosity makes a remarkable difference to the lives of families affected by conflict.

19 April 2013

  This woman's husband lost his leg in a landmine accident
Sore Ismail, with her grandchild. Her husband lost his leg when he stepped on a landmine while collecting wood two decades ago: “We thank MAG. We feel free – we can go where we like and the children can play where they like.”

This landowner is now able to rear sheep and crow crops on a former minefield
“We felt like prisoners, but now we are free. Now, we can let our sheep graze, we can go wherever we like. We can go for picnics with our families. None of this we would have been able to do if MAG hadn’t cleared our land.” – Idris, whose nephews were killed in a mine accident.

[Photos/text: Mike Fryer/MAG]

See how work at New Zakho is progressing.

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Videos, photos and more information from Iraq

Thanks to all the public, institutional and government donors to MAG's operations in Iraq, including:
• Act for Peace
Australian Aid
German Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Irish Aid
Isle of Man Overseas Aid Committee
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands
• NVESD HD R and D Program
Sida - Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Stichting Vluchteling
US Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement
Without this support, MAG's lifesaving work in the country could not be carried out.

About MAG

MAG (Mines Advisory Group) saves and improves lives by reducing the devastating effects armed violence and remnants of conflict have on people around the world.
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Co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize  |  Registered as a charitable company in the UK  |  Company no: 4016409  Charity no: 1083008  |  ISO 9001:2008 accredited  |  International Mine Action Standards compliant  |  Signatory of the ICRC Code of Conduct  |  Member of the Fundraising Standards Board scheme  |  Registered office: Suite 3A, South Central, 11 Peter Street, Manchester, M2 5QR, United Kingdom