Revealed: the cluster bombs that litter Iraq
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Kamal Ahmed, political editor
Sunday June 1, 2003
The shocking extent of unexploded cluster bombs dropped by American and British planes, which litter Iraq eight weeks after the conflict, is revealed in detail for the first time today.
The first map based on military intelligence to show the exact location of unexploded anti-personnel mines, cluster bombs and anti-tank mines, obtained by The Observer, shows the vast area of the country which is at danger from live munitions.
Experts in clearing conflict zones of unexploded bombs say that millions of Iraqi adults and children are at risk, along with humanitarian aid workers, United Nations personnel, civilian staff and military officials.
Its revelation raises fresh questions for Tony Blair and George Bush, who insisted that post-conflict Iraq would be a safer place than it was under Saddam Hussein.
It also reignites the controversy over the use of cluster bombs by the coalition forces. The map reveals that hundreds, or possibly thousands, of the bombs - which produce hundreds of 'bomblets' scattered out over a large area - failed to detonate.
Anti-landmine campaigners are insisting that American and British troops make clearing the 'lethal legacy' an urgent priority.
'This shows an appalling level of contamination,' said Richard Lloyd, director of Landmine Action, who is travelling to Iraq this weekend to assess the extent of the danger. 'It also confirms that American and British forces attacked built up areas in cities with cluster bombs.
'The coalition forces have a responsibility to protect those Iraqi civilians who now live with this lethal legacy all around them.
'It has to be highly questionable whether the use of such weapons in built-up areas is legal under international law.'
The map, dated 13 May, was produced by the Humanitarian Operations Centre based in Kuwait, which is staffed by military personnel from the US, Britain and Kuwait and is based on the latest intelligence assessment of the danger of unexploded bombs.
It was given to selected Non-Governmental Organisations tasked with providing humanitarian aid to the country. The map depicts a mass of green circles, diamonds and rectangles, each showing an individual site of what is described as an 'explosive location'.
Although it is impossible to judge precisely the number of unexploded bombs, landmine experts say that up to 10,000 separate cluster bombs and bomblets could be lying in cities, farmland and on the main road arteries across the country.
'We will see the desperate affects of this conflict, just as we have seen in Kosovo and Afghanistan, for years to come,' said Sarah Green of Amnesty International, which has campaigned for a ban on the use of cluster bombs.
Each green circle, rectangle or diamond is an example of an unexploded anti-personnel mine, anti-tank mine, a mixture of both or what is described on the map as a 'SubMunition', otherwise known as a cluster bomb. Yellow rectangles are described as 'unknown' unexploded munitions.
The greatest concentration is seen in the centre of the map, around Baghdad and on the main road routes between the capital and the British-controlled regions of Basra and Umm Qasr in the south-east. There are further concentrations around the southern Iraq town of Nasariyah and the mountains to the north and east of the Kurdish city of Kirkuk.
Although some of the munitions are from the 1991 Gulf war and will have originally been fired by Iraqi forces, experts in the field believe that most have been left since the recent conflict. Officials also say that cluster bombs were only used by coalition forces. 'SubMunition' diamonds make up the bulk of the unexploded locations around Baghdad, Nasariyah and north of Basra.
Aid agencies say that hundreds of civilians have already been maimed after tampering with unexploded cluster bombs. The victims are often young children scavenging for the valuable metal that encases the explosives.
Last week Adam Ingram, the Armed Forces Minister, admitted that cluster bombs were used in built-up areas in 'specific circumstances where there is a threat to our troops'.
Defence officials said that British and American troops were engaged in clearing as much of the land in Iraq as possible.
'We have a lot of Army people there helping make the country safe,' said one government official.
'We will be sending more people to continue the work. We are well aware of the seriousness of the issue.'