Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Iraqi Chupacabra?

Today's NY Times picks up the swirling street memes out of Basra regarding killer swamp rats, surveillance squirrels, and other trained mammalian minions of the British military. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for Mulder and Scully to come out of retirement.

From Iraq’s Rumor Mill, a Conspiracy of Badgers

Published: July 31, 2007

BASRA, Iraq — Nazariet al-Muwamara, they call it in Arabic: the conspiracy theory. As they go, this one is a gem.

Take a Western army wearing out its welcome in the ancient land of Mesopotamia. Add a sharp-toothed creature with the claws of a bear and a reputation here to rival the Hound of the Baskervilles. Simmer in the 120-degree temperatures of summer and sprinkle with provincial Iraqi newspapers eager to fill newsprint gaps left by vacationing officials.

The result? Many residents of the city of Basra in southern Iraq have convinced themselves that the British Army has loosed savage cattle-eating badgers onto its unsuspecting populace as a final gesture of ill intent before it departs this summer.

Throw in, for good measure, the fervent belief that British soldiers have planted snake eggs in waterways and unleashed bomb-sniffing dogs purposely infected with rabies.

All three stories have been manufactured by Iraq’s tireless rumor mill, the only machine in the country seemingly capable of functioning day and night without need of electricity or generators.

The Iranian news media have gotten in on the act too, claiming that foreign forces have been fitting squirrels with miniaturized surveillance devices and sending them scurrying across the border to spy. Iranian news reports, monitored by the BBC, recently referred to 14 spy squirrels being captured by alert Iranian intelligence officials before the animals could take action against the nation.


The British were soon blamed, perhaps aided by the unfortunate coincidence that one of the British Army units is named Badger Squadron.

Maj. Mike Shearer, a British military spokesman in Basra, rebutted all animal-related allegations with a straight face: “Of course we categorically deny that we have released badgers into Basra."

A spokeswoman for Britain’s Foreign Office was more succinct in denying the rumor. “Don’t be silly,” she said.

At the British headquarters, commanders have weightier matters to consider. On senior officers’ desks sit copies of Carl von Clausewitz’s 1832 treatise, “On War,” and David Galula’s colonial-era French manual, “Counterinsurgency Warfare.”

Asked whether coalition forces were ever likely to have been as welcome in Iraq as prewar optimists hoped, one senior British officer shook his head wearily. “It would have been difficult, given the conspiracy mindset,” he said. “Just look at the badgers.”

Lots more here from the British press.

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