Friday, June 18, 2010

One million dogs to be slaughtered in Iraq.

So sad. From Mother Jones:
Amid its struggles with Sunni jihadists, Shiite radicals, and Kurdish separatists, the Iraqi government is training its sights on a new enemy: dogs. According to the UK's Daily Mail, Iraq is spending 35 million dinars—about $30,000—to send 20 shotgun-wielding squads out to hunt down the capital's strays. Their goal: Killing one million canines. So far, they've scratched 42,000, and they're averaging 2,400 a day. "We could consider this the biggest campaign of dog execution ever," Baghdad's chief veterinarian, Mohammed al-Hilly, told the newspaper.

Put so bluntly, it sounds heinous, perhaps even criminal. It's also a tough pill to swallow for many US servicemembers in Iraq, who find comfort in adopted Iraqi pets that wandered in from the wild. But the dog-eradication program is incredibly popular among Iraqis, and could even enhance the government's standing with its discontented populace. And it's not unprecedented: Saddam Hussein used to sponsor dog roundups, and the US military is currently waging its own campaign against the country's feral dogs.

Wild animals also pose special problems for American service members in Iraq. Despite the fortifications at the US coalition's largest bases—mazes of walls, cameras, guns, checkpoints—coyotes and cats slip through at will, often crossing soldiers' paths in the dusty dark of night, catching fish on base lakes and moats, or tracking rats underneath the soldiers' sleeping trailers. Rabies is an ever-present concern, as is the general nastiness of the feral animal population. Plus, military working dogs are ubiquitous in Iraq, and keeping them away from wild animals is a paramount concern. Units that rely on working animals have rules of engagement empowering them to kill any creature that ventures too close to their dogs.

The US military command also forbids soldiers to own pets. It's right there in General Order No. 1, the master document regulating military and contractor behavior: "Adopting as pets or mascots, caring for or feeding any type of domestic or wild animal" in the Iraqi war zone is a crime, on a par with using illegal drugs, distributing pornography, drinking liquor, keeping war spoils, or selling your gun. The military doesn't just ban contact between soldiers and animals; it's contracted with KBR—yes, that KBR—to provide "vector control" on big installations like the Victory Base Complex on Baghdad's outskirts. The company's employees roam those bases, rounding up any animals they find, especially those being sheltered by the troops. All the animals are destroyed.

"No one involved in the animal control program enjoys the task," Lt. Colonel Raymond F. Dunton, chief of preventive medicine for the US military in Iraq, told the AP. "Unfortunately, it is critical that we continue this work to protect the health and safety of our service members."

"We are in the prevention business. We try to prevent problems," said Gary Orsack, manager of KBR's vector control program on the Victory Base Complex, which surrounds Baghdad International Airport. All the animals caught on VBC are taken to a clinic on an adjacent outpost, where they are euthanized. The name of the post where that clinic is located: Camp Slayer.

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