Overcoming taboo, Iraq turns to dogs to fight bombs

Fri Jul 2, 2010 9:52am EDT
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By Matt Robinson and Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A "dirty dozen" bomb-sniffing dogs whose canine nature makes them taboo in the Arab world is helping to win over Iraqis to the idea dogs are man's best friend -- especially when the animal saves your life.

At Baghdad's police training college, some of the 12 Alsatians and other breeds now deployed as bomb sniffers in the capital speak to the cultural aversion that has likely cost lives in the fight against a still potent insurgency.

The names of the dogs -- Tom, Pieter, Benny and Shirley, all four donated from Europe -- are often a mouthful for their Iraqi handlers, but they haven't been changed.

If they had been altered, "I might get offended if a dog has the same name as me," laughed a veterinary official at the college, adding: "English names are good."

Dogs are viewed as unclean by many Muslims because of Islamic teachings that say they put their snouts everywhere.

Guard dogs, kept outside of houses, are permissible but many Iraqis shudder at the thought of a dog nosing through personal items in their bags or in their cars.

U.S. forces were not averse, at times, to exploiting the Iraqis' dislike of dogs, as they notoriously did at Abu Ghraib prison when wardens used them to torment prisoners while they were also being sexually humiliated.

More recently, though, the anti-canine culture has hampered U.S. efforts to persuade Iraqis to use more bomb-sniffing dogs in the battle against bombs, which kill dozens each month even as the sectarian war that raged after the 2003 invasion recedes.   Continued...