Ridding Iraq of Live Munitions.

Foreign Policy has an interesting photo essay by Jonathan Olley about cleaning up the plethora of bombs and live munitions in Iraq:

Iraq is virtually littered with bombs. After two decades of war and fighting, there are more than a million tons of live munitions lying under foot. When it comes time to clean up the country, these are the men who are called to carry away the most dangerous debris.

This one above is captioned:

A looter, known locally as "Ali Baba" wields a sledgehammer to split open artillery shells. Once opened, the propellant is sold to other Iraqis as cooking fuel.

Link - via Mira y Calla


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I am the photographer who made this image of the Iraqi with the sledge-hammer.

The caption is misleading; Known colloquially as "ali-babas", from the forty thieves fame, this man was demolishing the building behind for the reinforcing steel bars inside the concrete roof and the collected bricks which he could sell. The shells have had their driving-bands removed, as they are made of copper and copper was fetching a high price in Iran at that time. A most dangerous thing to do with a dolly-hammer and cold-chisel. Most of these shells, South African made 152mm High-Explosive extended-range artillery shells & U.S. made 155mm High Explosive artillery shells, are live but without fuses and therefore relatively 'safe'. I did see some local people cooking on TNT, not to be recommended, it can go bang and of course burns very hot and with toxic fumes. The TNT for cooking had come from 'liberated' anti-tank mines, infinitely easier to prise out the explosive from. Sadly many of these shells in the photograph would have been taken by insurgents for use in IED's. That is what we get for invading a large, militarised country and not having much of a plan as to what to do afterwards. Pathetic really. You could spend a year banging one of these shells with a sledge-hammer and I guarantee that you would not split it open that way. On the other hand you might strike the shell in just the right way on the first strike and you'd be nothing more than a red-mist and a memory! I would not do it!
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Why dont they just take the artillery shells and drop them from a high ground or something.

Why do they need to smash the thing with a sledgehammer like in the cartoons?
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You can use C4 as a fuel. It is not recommended and gives off toxic and, as I understand it, psychoactive fumes, but you can burn it. However, I would be willing to guess that most of the unexploded ordnance in Iraq is being given back to the US in the form of IEDs, no matter what Iran may or may not be suppling. It was true in Vietnam, it is true in Afghanistan and Iraq: we provide most of the materiel for the insurgents.
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