French anti-mine group takes effort to Baghdad
Stars and Stripes June 14, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The first-ever pyramid of Shoes Against Landmines came to Iraq’s capital city Friday, displayed in a run-down park in the middle of a Baghdad traffic circle.
The pyramid served to draw attention to the cause of Handicap International, a French, nonprofit organization aimed at stopping the use of land mines.
But for the half-dozen homeless Iraqi children who seek safety daily by hanging around U.S. soldiers providing security at the nearby Palestine Hotel, they saw the pyramid not as a political statement, but as an opportunity to clad their bare feet with new shoes.
They went away barefooted.
The pyramid of footwear, mostly tennis shoes, will be donated to medical facilities in Baghdad that treat victims of land mine calamities, said Bouheddi Abderahman, trained to fit limbless victims with prosthetics.
Since the 1980s, Handicap International has provided medical care to victims of land mine blasts, and since 1992, has lobbied world governments to rid their military inventories of the often-deadly weapon.
“In the case of Iraq, this country has faced three wars” in recent history, Abderahman said. “There are hundreds of thousands of land mines and unexploded cluster bombs throughout the country, and they kill or maim someone every day.”
Five or six U.S. military civil affairs battalions, mostly activated reservists from posts throughout the United States, make up the 352nd Civil Affairs Command now operating in Iraq.
Soldiers, coupled with nongovernmental agencies specializing in de-mining projects, work to rid the nation of land mines and educate locals, said Lt. Col. Marcos Mendez, of the 350th CA Command in Pensacola, Fla.
“We’re educating the populous about land mines, letting them know what land mines look like and telling them not to touch them,” he said. Locals are advised to report the discovery of mines immediately, preferably to a servicemember.
Civil affairs troops visit mosques, religious centers and civic centers to spread the information, Mendez said.
Handicap International’s pyramid represents those who have lost limbs and serves as a symbol of their suffering, Abderahman said.
The organization is now calculating the number of land mine victims in Iraq, but a prewar count ranges between 400,000 and 600,000, he said.
It’s a pervasive problem around the globe, he said, particularly in Third World countries. In Afghanistan, the group estimates 1.5 million victims have been injured or killed by land mines; 1 million in Cambodia; 800,000 in Angola; and 250,000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to name a few countries. Handicap International operates in more than 50 countries.
When children are the victims, they’re usually fatalities, he said.
“The explosives are calculated in such a manner to injure an adult. Usually, victims lose one leg, one arm, one eye [on the same side of the body.] Children are smaller. They usually are killed.”