The Canadian military is expanding its operation in Iraq to focus on rebuilding the war-ravaged country.
“It was important to initially help the Iraqi security forces to prepare to help defeat Daesh,” Canada’s Brigadier-General Daniel MacIsaac said while using the Arabic name for the so-called Islamic State.
In an interview at the Canadian Forces base in Erbil, MacIsaac told Global News that 80 per cent of Iraqi territory once held by ISIS have been recaptured. “They (Iraqi forces) are much further along in the defeat of Daesh. So we’re working now on some different elements of partner capacity building.”
WATCH: Residents of Kurdish town in Syria celebrate referendum in Iraq
One new initiative, expected to begin around the end of October, will see a team of Canadian military engineers training Iraqi forces on how to safely remove landmines and other booby-traps left behind by ISIS. The United Nations estimates nearly 2,000 people have been killed by explosive booby-traps over the past year — many while attempting to return to their war-torn homes.
“When people started returning last summer, many were killed and wounded because of the improvised explosive devices and booby-traps,” Zaid Halid said.
He and his 10-year-old daughter returned to their home in Nineveh in May, to find half of their property had been reduced to rubble. Inside the ruins, they found an unexploded mortar.
“We are very worried about our children, always keeping an eye on them, telling them not to walk off the path,” he said.
The painstaking process of defusing and removing the explosive devices is largely being done by a group of NGOs, including the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) Anti-Explosives Unit.
“(The explosives) are deployed on such a scale, it’s almost unfathomable,” NPA’s Craig McInally said.
The U.S. army veteran has helped clear explosives in conflict zones all over the world, but says he’s never faced a challenge of this magnitude.
“We’re talking about kilometres of rows of IEDs, placed in layers around villages, agricultural areas, schools and homes.”
McInally predicts the explosives will take years, possibly even decades, to clear.
Canada’s mission in Iraq was recently extended to 2019.