BAGHDAD -- Foreign oil companies that have signed contracts to develop Iraq's oil reserves may be unable to meet contractual deadlines due to the danger of land mines, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.
In an effort to boost oil production in the next few years, Iraqi Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani asked foreign companies on July 18 to respect the timelines stipulated in their contracts.
But Oil Ministry spokesman Assim Jihad told RFE/RL that the prevalence of land mines and unexploded ordnance -- especially in the central and southern parts of the country -- might make it impossible for them to do so.
Jihad said a special joint committee comprising officials from the Oil Ministry and the Environment Ministry was working on clearing these areas of mines and helping foreign companies to stick to their schedules.
But experts in the field say this effort is not enough.
Muzahim Jihad (no relation to the Oil Ministry spokesman), the head of an Iraqi NGO that clears minefields, described the problem as catastrophic.
He said it could severely impact the Iraqi economy and he called on the Iraqi government and international organizations to help with the problem.
Muzahim Jihad also said the government did not pay much attention to the problem of land mines until after it signed contracts with foreign oil companies. He said these companies were now facing a huge challenge that could affect their efforts to develop oil fields in Iraq.
He estimated the number of mines in Iraq at 25 million, in addition to a vast quantity of unexploded bombs scattered over much of the country but especially in areas near oil fields.