Somalia Syndrome

Patrick Cockburn on the extinction of independent nation-states

In 1996 I visited Penjwin, an impoverished village in Iraqi Kurdistan close to the Iranian border, where people were trying to make a little money through what must be one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. They would walk through the extensive minefields around the village – laid during the Iran-Iraq War – in search of a particularly lethal Italian-made anti-personnel mine called the Valmara. A Valmara mine is usually buried in the ground, apart from five prongs which project from its top. These prongs, often attached to tripwires, are difficult to detect because they look like dry grass. But if one of them is disturbed a small charge is detonated which makes the Valmara jump into the air to about waist height – where a larger charge explodes and sprays 1200 steel fragments at high velocity in all directions.

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