July 1, 2009 / 5:04 PM / 10 years ago

Land mines jeopardise Iraq's road to recovery-U.N.

* Landmines stifle economic growth

* Lucrative energy fields laced with mines

By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD, July 1 (Reuters) - Iraq’s plans to reconstruct its war-battered economy are being hampered by a legacy of millions of landmines littering its farms, railways and even its prized oil fields, the United Nations said on Wednesday.

Iraq is peppered with an estimated 25 million landmines, the Environment Ministry says, most of them left over from the 1980s Iran-Iraq war that killed a million people.

The border between the two countries is particularly mine-infested. Mines claimed 14,000 victims in Iraq between 1991-2007, the U.N. Development Programme says. Unexploded cluster bombs claimed 5,000-8,000 victims in the same period.

But while the humanitarian cost of mines is evident, U.N. officials said they were also exacting a huge economic cost.

"Mined oilfields and farmlands lie undeveloped ... electricity lines are disrupted and the fundamental work of recovery is undermined," a U.N. report said on Wednesday.

"Iraq cannot afford to bear this cost in the future, if it wishes to restore its full socio-economic potential."

Perhaps most worrying of all for Iraq’s economy, almost all of its oil fields, the world’s third biggest, are mined.

"Most oil fields have a potential threat from landmines," said Kent Paulusson, a U.N. advisor on mines, a day after global oil executives jetted into Baghdad to bid for contracts to develop those fields. [nL1657402]

Iraq ratified the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty in August 2007 and it came into force in February the following year.

Since then, the Iraqi government has been trying to meet its treaty obligations, including destroying mine stockpiles by February 2012 and clearing all minefields by February 2018.

It is unlikely to hit that target. The report said there were 4,000 suspected hazard areas totalling 1,730 million square metres of land, disrupting the lives of 1.6 million Iraqis.

Many farming and grazing areas are off-limits. Roads are hazardous. Around 26 km (16 miles) of the rail network near the southern oil city of Basra is useless because of mines. (Editing by Tim Cocks and Louise Ireland)

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