Australian mine clearer killed in Iraq

  • 18/05/2016

An Australian mine-clearing expert killed in Iraq while defusing a device planted by retreating Islamic State militants has been described as a "guru and mentor" to his Iraqi team members.

The Australian was leading 30 deminers from the not-for-profit Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) at Daquq, close to Kirkuk, some 200km north of Baghdad, when he was killed on Tuesday morning.

Members of his family in Australia are still to be informed of his death.

Islamic State militants were driven out of Daquq last year but left behind hundreds of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

A full investigation involving FSD, Iraqi authorities and police is underway into the death.

FSD deputy director Ben Truniger said the foundation had its last accident six years ago and like then, the latest one "hit one of the most experienced deminers we've ever had".

"In our business that's part of the risk, if you're a mountaineer, every now and then one falls down," he told AAP by phone from Geneva.

"Even if you are as professional as you can be, there's always a residual risk."

Mr Truniger said that on Tuesday morning "one went wrong, and one is enough".

He said FSD was working with the Australian embassy in Baghdad to return the man's body to Australia as soon as possible.

"It was a big, big blast which he has triggered by defusing one of these IEDs so forensic work will be very difficult."

The dead man had more than 30 years of demining experience and had served in the Australian army.

"He was a guru, he was a mentor, he was a trainer, he was a supervisor. You would expect these kind of accidents with anybody but him, that's the tragedy about it," Mr Truniger said.

The Australian's team of Iraqi deminers were "paralysed" at the loss of their supervisor who "wasn't just their mate ... they learned the whole trade from him".

"They need a while to recover and somehow gather the courage to continue," Mr Truniger said.

"Obviously they are more scared now."

Mr Truniger said retreating IS militants had planted the IEDs "out of nastiness" to prevent people returning to their homes.

"We are talking about tens of thousands of refugees who would like to go back to their villages but they are booby trapped by ISIS."