NATO and Iraq tackle deadly improvised explosive devices together

  • 11 Dec. 2013 -
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  • Last updated: 11 Dec. 2013 10:00

For decades now, Iraq has been confronting the scourge of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which kill and injure civilians. A significant majority of IEDs in Iraq are manufactured from home-made explosives and explosive remnants of war, and used by terrorists as raw materials for improvised bombs and suicide attacks. In the framework of its strategic partnership with Iraq, NATO is supporting the Iraqi Government in its fight against IEDs.

“Home-made explosives now account for almost all of the improvised explosive devices in Iraq,” said General Hadi Salman, Head of Military Engineering at the Iraqi Ministry of Defence. “They are easy to make, simple to use, and the costs are minimal.”  According to the Iraq Body Count website1, 41,636 civilians were killed by explosives between 20 March 2003 and 14 March 2013.

In order to effectively counter these devices, Iraqi Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) experts from the Ministry of Defence followed a “Train-the-Trainer” course on “Countering the Threat of Home-made Explosives”. The course was held at the NATO-accredited EOD Centre of Excellence in Slovakia in November 2013.

This training is the first activity with Iraq which has been funded under the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme (SPS), a key partnership tool for practical and technical cooperation with all Alliance partners. It also highlights NATO’s continued commitment to its partnership with Iraq following the end of the NATO Training Mission in Iraq in December 2011.

Identifying the precursors

Major Balasim Mohammed Mosbih Aljanaby is a military engineering officer in Baghdad. His daily work consists of defusing car bombs, bomb belts and IEDs. Along with 13 of his colleagues, EOD operators, commanders and staff officers from the Iraqi Armed Forces, Major Aljanby followed the training to improve his technical capabilities.

"Any improvement in knowledge will help us to save lives, especially in respect of the home-made explosives that are widely used by terrorists in my country,” said Major Aljanaby.

"This training was intended to instruct the Iraqi security forces in the basics of identifying the precursors which are regularly used in the process ofmakinghome-made explosives," explained Jaroslav Bieleny, Director of the NATO EOD Centre of Excellence. The training emphasised the importance of recognising the variety of manufacturing equipment and clandestine home-made explosives laboratories.

“Learning how to identify precursors that are used in manufacturing home-made explosives will help us during our survey at the scene of the incident and also to control the handling of these materials," Major Aljanaby added.

Some of these same precursors were used by the young Nigerian, with links to Al-Qa'eda, who tried to cause an explosion on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 by hiding explosives in his underwear.

He had used a compound from the nitroglycerine family. He also had a syringe containing a chemical liquid which he intended to mix with the powder to cause the explosion. Fortunately, the device failed to explode.

Spreading the knowledge

Back in their country, the Iraqi security forces can now develop their own training programme in countering home-made explosives. It will be included in their national programme for the disposal of unexploded ordnance and reinforce their fight against terrorism.

“NATO is contributing significantly to the Iraqi, as well as the global efforts in countering IEDs which are constantly being employed by terrorist groups in Iraq and worldwide,” said Dr Eyup Kuntay Turmus, SPS Advisor at NATO.

Clearing mines and unexploded ordnance

“Mine clearance and disposal of unexploded ordnance (UXO) are possible other areas under the SPS Programme as Iraq is one of the worst mine/UXO affected countries in the world,” continued Dr Turmus.

According to United Nations data, Iraq has 1,730 square kilometres of mine-contaminated territory, affecting some 1.6 million people. “The mine contamination at the border with Iran is around 12 -15 million according to Military Engineering estimates, but the UXOs overall are a huge amount (over 50 million according to some estimates) that no report mentions until now,” said General Salman.

Additionally, the issue is important from a counter-IED perspective, as often UXOs can be dismantled and used in roadside IEDs. Eliminating the UXO problem is therefore a significant preventative measure in combating IED threats.