Iraq struggles to sweep Saddam's landmine legacy

Sun Nov 16, 2008 12:08pm EST
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By Aseel Kami

HALABJA, Iraq (Reuters) - Inside an Iraqi clinic close to where Saddam Hussein's henchmen killed thousands of Kurds with poison gas, Azima Qadar waits for a check up of her artificial limb.

Her right leg was blown off by a land mine as she went to tend her family's walnut farm in rural northern Iraq, near the Iranian border, in 1993.

"When it happened, I thought: I'm not going to live long, I'll die soon," said the thin, frail Azima. "Instead, I'm trapped in continuous suffering."

Iraq is littered with an estimated 25 million landmines, the Environment Ministry says. Many lie in areas bordering Iran, a legacy of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war that killed a million people.

Mines claimed 14,000 victims in Iraq between 1991 and 2007, the United Nations Development Programme says. More than half died from their wounds. For survivors, life is a daily struggle.

Aged 39, illiterate and unmarried in a culture in which women wed in their early 20s, Azima has few real hopes.

Her father was killed along with thousands of other Kurds during Saddam's 1987-1988 "Anfal" or "Spoils of War" campaign, when soldiers razed villages and forced thousands into camps.

Azima used to make traditional Kurdish shoes and sell them, but deteriorating eyesight forced her to stop. She wonders how she will support her mother, who also lost a leg to a land mine.   Continued...

<p>An Iraqi policeman holds a wrapped defused land mine, meant to be used as an improvised bomb, found on a road in Baghdad's Sadr city, January 6, 2006. REUTERS/Kareem Raheem</p>