The demining robots were delivered at a ceremony on Tuesday. Photo by author.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Canada delivered six demining robots to the Kurdistan Region’s Peshmerga forces, where 70 percent of casualties are caused by planted bombs.
The remotely-operated devices, delivered at a ceremony outside Erbil on Tuesday,will be used to detect and defuse improvised explosive devices (IEDs) laid by retreating Islamic State (ISIS) fighters.
A major source of danger, IEDs cause 70 percent of all Peshmerga casualties, according to Peshmerga Minister Mustafa Sayid Qadir.
Mine clearers have been at particular risk. In October last year, four mine clearance workers were killed and two seriously injured while clearing a building in Zumar that was recently retaken by Peshmerga.
The prevalence of IEDs has slowed the advance of the Peshmerga and prevented internally displaced persons from returning to their homes, Qadir said.
“I'm sure these robots will save many, many lives,” he said. “Thanks to these robots we will be able to clear areas of IEDs much quicker.”
Canadian ambassador to Iraq Bruno Saccomani – in attendance at Tuesday's ceremony – said the robots were initially requested by the Peshmerga in September last year. “You have to understand that for us this is very, very fast,” he told Qadir.
The Peshmerga will now receive training in using the robots by the Canadian supplier of the vehicles, Med-Eng. Saccomani said there was no timetable yet for this.
Professional de-miner Omer Hassan, who has over 20 years experience working in Iraq, said the value of the robots to the Peshmerga will depend largely on this training. “What I've seen is that (in the past) a lack of training has been the reason for accidents,” he said.
News of the arrival of the robots was well received by Peshmerga troops. Ali Mohammed, a second lieutenant of the 103rd Peshmerga Unit, said: “We are losing people every day to these booby traps.”
Mohammed visited the village of Jalawla in Diyala Governorate in eastern Iraq after ISIS forces withdrew in November, and said “thousands of IEDs” were left behind. Even once demining teams had cleared areas – often by blowing up entire houses – families were reluctant to return, he said.
The robots were supplied as part of a $10 million counter terrorism capacity-building program.
Canada is a major partner in the multinational coalition against ISIS in Iraq, with 69 special forces advisors sent to train Iraqis as well as 600 air crew and other military personnel operating six fighter jets and other aircraft.
Canada has in total pledged $105 million in aid to Iraq, according to the chargé d'affaires of the Canadian embassy in Iraq, Robert Bissett.