The right equipment: A US military explosive ordnance disposal robot pulls the wire of an alleged improvised explosive device. (photo: Journalist 1st Class Jeremy L. W)
“Everywhere we manage to get rid of the extremists, they leave behind so many improvised explosive devices,” says Hardi Raouf, a 27-year-old Iraqi Kurdish man. “Inside houses, inside cars, in copies of the Koran, in mobile phones as well as in ordinary household things.”
And Raouf knows this from bitter experience. Married with two children, he is an explosives specialist and was working with a team of Iraqi Kurdish military in the southern Kirkuk area, where there had been fighting against the extremist group known as the Islamic State, when he opened the door to an abandoned house. It was then that he himself fell victim to one of these bombs – Raouf lost a leg as a result and can no longer work. “This is why it takes us so long to ensure that areas are free of the Islamic State,” Raouf continues. “In many cases we lose members as we advance because we just don't have the right gear to do this work. These improvised devices are some of the most effective weapons that the Islamic State has against our military.”
For example, while clearing villages around the south of Kirkuk at the end of September 12 of the improvised explosive devices, also known as IEDs, exploded, killing 15 members of the Iraqi Kurdish military and wounding another 22.
The IS group are continuously coming up with new methods to hide the IEDs.
Harlo Mohammed is another specialist in disarming the IEDs and he had been working in a village west of Kirkuk when he went to deactivate a bomb. IN fact, another bomb had been placed directly under it and this one exploded; Mohammed lost his arm. However he has managed to keep working with only one arm as expert in this area are needed.
“These devices are one of the main threats to the Iraqi Kurdish military,” Mohammed told NIQASH. “We want to reduce potential victims by deactivating as many of them as possible.”
Most of the IEDs are hand made by the IS group. Some are large, hidden in tanks or armoured vehicles left behind, which explode as soon as they are touched. In some cases the IEDs are detonated remotely and in other cases they are detonated by suicide bombers left behind as a last line of defence while other IS fighters withdraw. Most of the IEDs that have been discovered and deactivated have been on main roads, if they are large, or, if smaller, connected to the doors of houses or even attached to refrigerator doors. This is part of the reason that civilians have not yet been able to return to their homes in areas where the IS group has been driven out.
Iraqi Kurdish military engineers and the Iraqi Kurdish government's Landmines Foundation have set up three different operations rooms to deal with the threat on the different front lines of the fight against the extremists. Between mid-June 2014, when the security crisis started properly, and October 2014, the Foundation reports that 131 members of the Iraqi kurdish military were killed by IEDs.
“Our teams have deactivated 1,225 IEDs in different parts of the battlefront over the last ten months,” a commander of one of the military engineering teams told NIQASH off the record. “The conditions have changed here. Most of the time we are confronting IEDs rather than fighters; they are everywhere that the IS fighters withdraw from.”
“It seems that one of the IS group's main missions at the moment is to plant as many IEDs as possible before they withdraw,” Qassim Shasho, leader of the Iraqi Kurdish military in the recently liberated Sinjar area, told NIQASH. “Our teams are doing everything they can to eliminate this danger but the extremists are turning the areas from which they withdraw into killing fields.”