Booby-traps harm returning Mosul civilians

SHEIKH AMIR, Iraq: As people return home to Mosul and other areas of northern Iraq freed from IS, homemade bombs and explosives laid on an industrial scale by the insurgents are claiming hundreds of victims and hampering efforts to bring life back to normal.
Houses, schools, mosques and streets are all booby-trapped, a big problem in West Mosul following its recapture by government forces this month after nine months of fighting.
Beyond Mosul, in villages and fields stretching from the Plain of Nineveh to the Kurdish autonomous region, retreating IS fighters have sown a vast area with improvised bombs and mines as their self-proclaimed caliphate shrinks.
“The scale of contamination — There are kilometres and kilometres and kilometres of active devices, sensitive enough to be detonated by a child and powerful enough to blow up a truck,” Craig McInally, operations manager for Norwegian People’s Aid anti-explosives project, said.
While mines are usually laid in rows in open ground, improvised explosives in buildings are wired into household appliances such as fridges, heaters and televisions, primed to explode at the flick of a switch or an opened door, experts say.
Since clearing operations began last October, about 1,700 people have been killed or injured by such explosives, according to the United Nations Mines Action Service, which co-ordinates the clearing campaign.
By targeting civilians, IS hopes to thwart a stabilisation effort aiming to get people back to their homes, jobs and studies, rebuild infrastructure and reinstate government rule.
While the crisis lasts, IS — whose strategy extends far beyond military operations — could thrive again, said Charles Stuart, charge d’affaires at the European Union mission in Iraq.
Sheikh Amir, on the main Erbil-Mosul road at the line between Kurdish and Iraqi army control, is an abandoned, bombed-out ruin — one of hundreds of villages in such a state.
On a sweltering morning, Haskim Hazim, 37, was working with his brother and a few friends to repair his house, mixing cement and erecting a cinder-block wall.
Apart from his, only one other family out of a village that once had 120 Muslim households has returned since it was recaptured from IS in October, he said.
When he came back, his house, adjacent buildings and animal pens had been booby-trapped. “All were connected together. The bomb was a jerry can,” he said.
Many other houses had been rigged with improvised explosives. IS had also dug tunnels in and around the village. — Reuters