United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM)

International Information

International Operation Name: United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM)

International Mission Name: United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM)

Mandating Organization: United Nations

Region Name: Middle East

Location: Kuwait, Iraq

Mission Date: 9 April 1991 - 6 October 2003

Mission Mandate: UNIKOM was mandated to monitor the demilitarized zone along the Iraq-Kuwait border, deter border violations and report on any hostile actions.

United Nations Security Council Resolutions 687 (3 April 1991), 689 (9 April 1991), and 806 (5 February 1993), all under Chapter VII

Mission Notes: On 28 February 1991, coalition offensive actions against Iraq, as a result of its invasion of Kuwait, were halted. On 3 April the Security Council adopted Resolution 687, which set specific terms for the cease-fire and specified that the cease-fire would only come into formal effect once Iraq accepted the terms. Iraq accepted the terms on 6 April.

The task of monitoring the cease-fire was given to the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM), created by Resolution 689 on 9 April 1991 and as recommended by the Secretary-General. UNIKOM would be of an unlimited duration. Although the Security Council would review the need for UNIKOM every six months, no formal decision would be required to extend the mission. However, the mission’s termination would require a formal Security Council decision.

UNIKOM’s mandate was to monitor the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that ran along the land-border between Iraq and Kuwait, as well as the Khawr ‘Abd Allah waterway between the two nations and report on violations. The DMZ is an almost barren land, 200-km long and extending 10 km into Iraq and 3 km into Kuwait. The only signs of human habitation in the zone are the oilfields in the zone and the Iraqi towns of Safwan and Umm Qasr.

The UNIKOM observers did not have the authority to prevent incursions or to take physical actions against the violators. In fact, being unarmed, the only option for the observers was to report such activities. The police forces of Iraq and Kuwait were responsible for security and could only carry side arms in the DMZ. Still, it was hoped that the mere presence of UNIKOM would deter border violations and hostile actions.

The UNIKOM advance party arrived in the area on 13 April. The remaining forces followed rapidly thereafter. By 6 May, UNIKOM was ready to supervise the withdrawal of the armed forces still in what was to become the DMZ. With the withdrawal rapidly completed, the DMZ came into effect on 9 May. UNIKOM was then able to assume its full responsibilities.

UNIKOM’s initial strength was 300 observers from 33 countries. In addition, the support elements totalled 155 persons from four nations and a Canadian Field Engineer unit of 301. To provide security during this initial phase, five infantry companies and one logistics company were drawn from the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus, six nations providing these soldiers. They returned to Cyprus at the end of June 1991.

For operations, the DMZ was divided into three sectors. The southern one extended from the junction of the Iraq-Kuwait-Saudi Arabia border to a point just south of where the Iraq-Kuwait border turns east. The southern zone had 8 posts from which patrols were conducted. The northern sector continued from the end of the southern to the Khawr ‘Abd Allah waterway. This sector had seven posts. The last sector was the maritime with three posts. In addition to these posts, UNIKOM operated temporary observation posts set up in areas where roads or tracks entered the DMZ. For the Khawr ‘Abd Allah, UNIKOM operated helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. In the southern zone, mines and unexploded ordnance limited road movements. Patrols were frequently conducted by aircraft until tracks and roads were cleared.

From May 1991 to January 1993 three main types of violations were noted in the DMZ: minor incursions by military personnel, overflights by military aircraft and policemen carrying weapons other than side-arms. In January 1993, Iraq began entering the DMZ and Kuwaiti territory to retrieve Iraqi property and military hardware. By this time, the number of observers was down to 250. The Secretary-General recommended that the number be brought up to 300 again and that three infantry battalions were required as a deterrent. Security Council Resolution 806 approved this plan. The Secretary-General subsequently reduced the requirement to one mechanised battalion. Bangladesh provided the battalion, while Kuwait equipped it. The battalion became operational on 5 February 1994.

With the deployment of the Bangladeshi troops, the situation along the border became calm again. There continued to be incidents and violations of the DMZ, plus one period of heightened tension when it was reported that Iraq was massing troops north of the DMZ. In March 1996, UNIKOM”s strength was 245 observers and 1,111 infantry and support personnel from 32 countries.

On 17 March 2003, in advance of the American-led invasion of Iraq, the Secretary-General decided to suspend UNIKOM and withdraw its personnel. Most returned to their homes, with only a small detachment of 12 military and 20 civilian remaining in Kuwait City. UNIKOM remained suspended while the situation in Iraq became clear. On 6 October 2003 the Security Council dissolved UNIKOM.

Canadian Forces (CF) Information (RECORD)


Date: 17 April 1991 - 15 August 2001

CF Mission/Operation Notes: The Canadian Forces’ participation in UNIKOM began with a request from the Secretary-General for one Lieutenant Colonel and an engineering regiment of up to 300. The LCol was to act as Deputy Chief of Staff at UNIKOM headquarters. The engineers were to clear areas for observation posts, make existing roads and tracks safe, and establish additional tracks to allow UNIKOM to patrol the DMZ, to perform minor construction and to assist in the supply and purification of water. 

On 17 April 1991 the operations order was issued for Operation RECORD. 1 Combat Engineer Regiment (1 CER) was tasked to deploy, augmented by personnel from across Canada. The LCol was also accepted, but would now be Deputy Chief Operations Officer for UNIKOM. Support for the Canadian Contingent UNIKOM would include a 16 person communications section from Canadian Forces Communications Command (CFCC), and logistical support by CC-130 Hercules from CFB Lahr flying two sustainment flights a month. 

Although the engineers performed a variety of construction and engineering tasks, the most pressing need was mine clearance and disposal of unexploded ordnance (UXOs) to provide UNIKOM safe lanes for patrolling through the DMZ. While there were hundreds of thousands of mines, the bigger threat was UXOs. Although armed, many bombs and other explosives had failed to detonate when they hit the soft sand. Now with the temperatures rising as summer approached, they would heat up and explode of their own accord. Winds would blow UXOs onto previously cleared tracks, and as the sands shifted, more UXOs would be revealed. 

The Canadian engineers built over 1000 kms of new track but keeping the existing 2000 kms of tracks clear was also a major task as sand could drift to depths of 1.5 metres over the course of a day. With the winds blowing UXOs onto the tracks, daily inspections were required to ensure safety. On one occasion, a grader lost a tire to an UXO. 

1 CER also built observation posts for UNIKOM observers. For the headquarters of each of the sectors, footings were poured for ATCO trailers, and sewage systems, communications towers and fencing installed. The other rotations conducted maintenance on or improvements to these facilities. 

In addition, the engineers were requested to support the UN Boundary Commission, which was to mark the Iraq-Kuwait border. This was not part of their original mandate, but a vital task none-the-less. Canada approved this task, and the engineers were soon clearing the proposed boundary of mines and unexploded ordnance before the heavy equipment could build the tracks to allow the Boundary Commission to conduct their work and the engineers to install the markers. The first rotations of engineers helped install temporary markers while the final two rotations installed 106 permanent concrete border markers at 2 km intervals. Each pillar weighed 1800 kgs and could be seen for many kilometres. 

The Canadian commitment for engineer support was two years. Planning for rotation 1 and 2 began almost as soon as 1 CER had deployed. Consideration was now given to reducing the size of the contingent to 85 persons, with 5e Régiment du génie slated to deploy for rotation 1. 59e Escadron du génie de combat (59 EGC) from 5e Régiment du génie assumed control from 1 CER on 8 October 1991 and remained in theatre until 1 April 1992. The contingent consisted of 85 personnel. 

The CFCC personnel would also be rotated with rotation 1. Their numbers were reduced to six personnel, with later rotations involving fewer numbers. Their main role was to provide communications between the engineering contingent and the Canadian military observer, and Canada. 

Planning for rotation 2 also started in June 1991. 23 Field Engineer Squadron from 2 CER was tasked to provide the bulk of the 53 members. The 2 CER contribution deployed on 30 March 1992. One of their first tasks was to move the engineering logistics base from Doha to Umm Qasr, to be closer to their area of operation. 

The third and final rotation was again from 2 CER, and would consist of 44 personnel. The personnel began deploying at the start of October 1992, with one-third of the personnel being reservists from 2nd Field Engineer Regiment and 3rd Field Engineer Squadron. By mid-January the Canadian contribution had been reduced to 29 people as personnel were redeploying to Canada as the Canadian contribution was slowly wound down. The bulk of personnel from 2 CER left Kuwait on 27 March, to be replaced by an Argentine engineer squadron. 

The departure of the engineers did not end Canada’s participation in UNIKOM. Besides the engineers and their accompanying communications personnel, Canada had provided one military observer to the UNIKOM headquarters. With the impending draw-down of the engineers, in November 1992 Canada indicated to the UN its willingness to increase the number of observers to a total of five. The UN requested this and approval was given at the start of March 1992 for these four additional observers. 

Each Canadian observer was posted to UNIKOM for one year. Their duties were those of the original UN military observers. Op RECORD ended on 15 August 2001 when the last Canadian personnel left Kuwait.


LCol. Don Matthews, CO 439 Squadron (Desert Cats), prepares for mission over KTO (Kuwaiti Theatre of Operations).

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