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Security-conscious residents of troubled Anbar province are jettisoning cultural taboos by increasingly turning to imported guard dogs for protection in their troubled region.
Iraq's customs department registered the import of 1,237 guard dogs into Anbar in the months of April and May, with many attributing the influx to the influence of the American military as well as canny businessmen eager to profit from the province's history of violence.
“Neither the province, nor any part of Iraq has ever witnessed the entry of such a number of dogs in such a short time,” said Hadi Khalil, director of customs in Anbar.
“I think people are trying to find ways to feel safe especially after the recent rise in burglaries, armed attacks and the bombings of officials' houses.”
Khalil said most of the dogs are brought over from Syria and Jordan, with some shipped directly from Europe. Doberman Pinschers, German Shepherds and bulldogs were among the most commonly imported, he said.
The demand is something of a departure for Iraqis who don’t tend to own dogs, regarding them as dirty and un-Islamic - although the faith consents to their use in a guarding capacity.
“People are rushing to buy dogs. Some have even released their bodyguards, and replaced them with dogs. My sales have increased 60 per cent in the last few weeks," said Sinan Abid, an importer and seller of dogs in Fallujah.
According to Abid, the dogs are going for between 400 and 1,000 US dollars depending on size, age and the level of training. He said most of his customers are merchants, wealthy families, security officials and members of the Sahwa Awakening movement that fought al-Qaeda at the behest of the United States.
“The need to guard you house isn't new in Anbar. We used to hire guards for 500-600 US dollars per month, but there was always trouble. We have found dogs to be better, they don't request leave or spy on the family or fall asleep. They are more faithful,” said Fawaz.
The demand for guard dogs has in part been driven by several dramatic examples of their effectiveness that have been widely circulated.
“People were impressed when a dog that belongs to one of the Awakening leaders foiled an assassination attempt. The dog was a gift from a US officer before he left Iraq. The dog attacked two armed men who were planting a bomb under the leader's car. The men were caught,” said Innad Sa'adi, a leader in the Anbar Awakening movement.
Shakir al-Dulaimi, an Anbar policeman, said his dog sniffed out a roadside bomb and led him to the man who had planted it.
Basim Ali, a veterinarian in Ramadi, said his clinic is now treating an unprecedented number of dogs.
"Locals with guard dogs treat them like one of their sons. They spend lots of money to feed and treat them, even more than they would spend on their wives,” said Ali.
But the arrival of guard dogs in Anbar has also led to safety concerns. Provincial police spokesman Raheem Ziban said a new task force is being formed to license and regulate dog ownership. He said new owners must put up signs and seek the approval of their neighbours.
Khalil, at the customs office, is calling for specific measures on the import of dogs. He said that, at present, there is no duty charged for dogs or any required health tests.
“I think the new culture of using dogs came from the American army,” he said. “Before, Iraqis were not aware of the importance of dogs and they looked down on them. Iraqis believed dogs to be ‘dirty’ creatures, and it is forbidden to keep them in the house.”
Abdullah al-Dulaimi, a cleric in Anbar, confirmed that Islam only permits the ownership of dogs for personal security.
“Keeping a dog as a pet prevents angels from hovering over the house. But if they are meant for security reasons it is OK,” said Dulaimi. “Things can change according to circumstances, and necessity knows no law. People in Anbar need to protect themselves any possible way they can.”
Uthman Al-Mukhtar is an IWPR-trained journalist in Anbar province.Iraqi Metro is a new IWPR Iraq strand featuring local news items from around the country.
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