Pet market bombings & dog abuse reflect the low price of life in Iraq war zone
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2007:
BAGHDAD–Who bombed the Ghazil pet market? Four times? Why?
The anonymous perpetrators of the Ghazil mayhem against both
humans of animals may pretend to motives rooted in religion and
Yet, killing and maiming both Sunnis and Shiites, of both
genders and all ages, along with countless animals of multiple
species, the Ghazil bombings exhibited the same depraved disregard
for others’ lives as the alleged deeds of former U.S. Army private
first class Steven Dale Green.
Green, 21, is soon to stand trial in U.S. federal court in
Kentucky, facing the death penalty, for allegedly leading four
other soldiers in the March 12, 2006 gang rape and murder of Abeer
Qassim Hamza, 14. First, testified the other soldiers, Green shot
her parents and her five-year-old sister. Then, after the rapes,
Green shot Hamza several times in the head at close range, and set
her hair on fire before fleeing the scene.
Green had apparently rehearsed the acts with an animal victim.
At an August 7, 2006 pre-trial hearing, wrote Paul von
Zielbauer of The New York Times, soldiers of Green’s unit who were
called by his defense to demonstrate his purported mental unfitness
to be tried “testified to a grisly tale of how Mr. Green tossed a
puppy off the roof of a building and set the puppy on fire.”
Two of Green’s alleged partners in crime, Specialist James
P. Barker, 24, and Sergeant Paul E. Cortez, 24, pleaded guilty to
rape and murder in November 2006 and February 2007, respectively,
receiving sentences of 90 and 100 years in prison. Barker will be
eligible for parole in 20 years, Cortez in only 10 years. Privates
first class Jesse Spielman, 22, and Bryan Howard, 19, are still
awaiting court martial.
At the Ghazil pet market on January 25, 2007, “Blood
stained the ground and small birds chirped in battered cages around
the small square in front of an ancient Sunni mosque,” reported
Alastair Macdonald of Reuters. “Tattered black Shi’ite prayer flags
hung in the clear, still air. The population of the busy area is
religiously mixed,” Macdon-ald wrote. “A police source said
witnesses believed Friday’s market bomb was planted in a cardboard
box that the bomber had punched with air holes, to pass off as
containing birds. Parrots, canaries and more exotic pets are prime
attractions at the Ghazil market.”
Associated Press elaborated that a witness said “a carton
containing pigeons blew up as potential buyers gathered around.”
“My friends and I rushed to the scene,” customer Raad Hassan
told Associ-ated Press, “where we saw burned dead bodies, pieces of
flesh, and several dead expensive puppies and birds.”
Fifteen people died. Fifty-five were wounded. No source
counted the dead and injured animals.
“The Ghazil pet market is a popular destination on Fridays,”
Associated Press continued. “People gather to sell and buy monkeys,
cats, dogs, and other animals.”
Baghdad has one struggling zoo, but in the whole of Iraq
there are no functioning humane societies or animal shelters, and
are few opportunies other than pet markets for most people to see
animals other than dogs, cats, and those used for work or food.
But someone is making a concerted effort to close the Ghazil
market, an institution believed to have endured–with occasional
relocations–since before the time of the Prophet Mohammed.
The first two Ghazil bombs detonated in rapid succession on
June 2, 2006, killing five people, wounding 57. The bombs were
reportedly left in bags that looked as if they might hold snakes.
Three people died in the next bombing, on December 1, 2006.
Attacks on Iraq pet keepers and pets in the first months
after the 2003 U.S. invasion were mostly attributed to sectarian
militants expressing rejection of U.S. and British pro-animal values.
Wiring dogs with explosives, alive or dead, was allegedly a gesture
of cultural defiance, as well as a means of killing.
Death threats for “collaborating” with Americans to found the
Iraq Society for Animal Welfare in mid-2003 forced former Baghdad Zoo
veterinarian Farah Murrani to flee Iraq toward the end of 2004.
Surviving for at least another year, the Iraq Society for Animal
Welfare is now apparently dormant.
But the Ghazil pet fair has nothing to do with American or
British invaders, nor with western values, nor with any clear
strategic objective of either Shiite or Sunni warring factions,
other than the general notion of making Iraq ungovernable by any
The Ghazil bombings appear instead to indicate the
involvement of non-Iraqis espousing a strain of extreme Islamic
fundamentalism most often seen in Afghanistan and adjacent parts of
The predominant Shiite and Sunni interpretations of Islam
both accept keeping caged birds, as well as other pets.
The Taliban, however, who governed Afghanistan from 1996 to
2003, believe Islam forbids keeping birds in cages. Soon after the
Taliban took control of Kabul, the Afghan capital, they forced the
release of all caged birds, no matter how dependent the birds were
for survival on human feeders.
The Ghazil market also sells dogs, a practice explicitly
forbidden by at least three Hadiths, or sayings, of Mohammed.
“Allah’s Apostle forbade taking the price of a dog,” agree
Hadith 3:439, 3:440, and Hadith 3:482.
Street dogs and fear of dogs due to endemic rabies are both
ubiquitous in Iraq, as elsewhere throughout the world. Wherever
refuse collection is haphazard, dogs do much of the rodent control,
and vaccination and dog sterilization have yet to become commonplace.
U.S. troops were often portrayed as protectors of dogs and
other animals in the first phases of American involved in Iraq.
Soldiers who adopted Iraq street dogs, and sometimes cats, often
found ways of transporting them stateside, with the help of the Iraq
Society for Animal Welfare and the Boston-based organization Military
Between sixty and 100 animals adopted by U.S. soldiers
reached the U.S. before the most accessible routes were cut off by
intensified biosecurity measures imposed at all U.S. ports of entry
in 2004, after outbreaks of Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
and the H5N1 avian influenza spread from southern China throughout
By March 2005, e-mails and web postings from U.S. troops in
Iraq indicated that the attitudes of some toward dogs had become
overtly hostile, to the consternation of others.
Read one e-mail forwarded to ANIMAL PEOPLE, “Hi my name is
M. D. formerly of A TRP 1-10 CAV 4ID. While in Iraq we had a sport
of killing dogs whenever the Iraqis weren’t shooting us. I shot one
at about 50 yards with my M4 and it ran yelping to lower ground. We
had to finish it, so my friends and I went to it and started
shooting it. I’ve never seen a dog take as many shots to the head,
at least four, as this one did. After we thought it was dead we dug
a hole and when I picked it up with the shovel it came back to life,
so we shot it a couple more times.”
The e-mail included the web coordinates of a malfunctioning
video clip that the sender described as “pretty funny.”
“I am currently stationed in Iraq with the Tennessee National
Guard,” wrote another soldier in mid-2005, identifying himself as
Mike Hoback. “We have several dogs whom the National Guard states
are wild. However, these dogs have never once tried to bite or harm
any soldier, and are loved and cared for by the soldiers. We are
fighting for our lives every day over here,” Hoback said, “not
knowing if we will make it to the next day, but upon arriving back
at the camp and seeing the dogs, all of our worries go out the
window and we feel at peace with our K-9 friends.”
Unfortunately, Hoback alleged, “The Tennessee and Texas
National Guards have a policy that the animals are to be caught using
a device similar to an old bear trap. Several dogs have been caught
in these traps, and for some reason a week later the traps are still
on them. Once the dogs are caught, they are transported to a garbage
dump and used for target practice, sometimes requiring ten to
fifteen shots before finally being killed.
“I don’t understand this, as the military provides medicine
to put dogs to sleep,” Hoback continued, “but our leadership will
not try to get it, stating ‘We will be gone by the time it gets
here.’ I have been fighting this battle with my chain of command for
almost two weeks,” Hoback said, “and right now they have suspended
the use of traps and shootings until they look into the law, but I
need help fast.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE forwarded the e-mail to several potential
sources of help, but received no further particulars and no
confirmation that the response ever reached Hoback.
On September 28, 2005, ANIMAL PEOPLE received a forwarded
e-mail from someone identifying himself as “a soldier in 2nd of the
3rd ACR,” who was “ordered by my company commander to kill all dogs
I see. We are living at a place called Ft. Telifar,” the soldier
said. The company commander allegedly called the dogs a health risk.
“This is not true,” the soldier wrote. “The dogs help keep us
protected. At night the dogs bark at anything coming near us.”
The soldier claimed the order to kill dogs came after a
litter of puppies defecated in the commander’s quarters.
“People just started shooting dogs like it was some kind of
sport,” the soldier said. “I even heard over the radio that one of
the tank crews killed a cat with a main gun round. At my last count,
there were 26 dead dogs here at the fort in the last two weeks.”
Killing dogs, however, was not only not U.S. policy, but
was explicitly against orders for soldiers on patrol.
“Coalition troops in Iraq have been warned not to run over or
shoot stray dogs they see watching them from the roadside,” reported
Brendan Nicholson of the Melbourne Age on August 2, 2005, “because
they may be cut-out shapes hiding a home-made bomb.
“Explosives experts say insurgents have created bombs with
the trigger mechanisms hidden behind these fake dogs,” Nicholson
explained. “The terrorists have apparently used florescent tape to
create eyes in their canine cut-outs, to make them look more
realistic in a vehicle’s headlights.
“The device includes two metal plates,” Nicholson said,
“that when hit by a bullet or the wheel of a truck, are jammed
together, closing an electric circuit and setting off the bomb.
Coalition soldiers say the dog bombs are the biggest threat they
Notice at last
Reports of U.S. troops killing or abusing dogs in Iraq drew
only sporadic activist notice for more than two years. News reports
occasionally mentioned suspected rabid dogs being shot in combat
areas, but death squad activities and frequent revelations of abuse
of human prisoners tended to draw attention away from anything done
to animals, until January 2007.
Then a video clip posted to a public web site drew more than
287,000 mostly outraged hits within a matter of days. The clip
showed an injured dog lying in ruts left by the recent passage of a
vehicle. Not clear was whether the dog had just been hit, or was
injured earlier. Several U.S. soldiers walked near, taunting and
stoning the dog, laughing at the dog’s awkward efforts to limp away.
“There is no one in Iraq to rescue animals in need of help,”
posted Colorado activist Gayle Hoenig, after days of trying to
identify and help the dog. “The Iraq Society for Animal Welfare
cannot operate under these dangerous conditions. They are no longer
a contact and not an option. There is no place to take animals even
if someone does rescue them. There is no way to get animals out of
Iraq. The U.S. military in Iraq is doing whatever they want,”
Hoenig added. “Current U.S. military policy is to shoot dogs who
pose a threat or a nuisance.”
But U.S. Army chief of public affairs Brigadier General Tony
Cucolo on February 2, 2007 wrote to Hoenig and others that the Army
is taking the videotaped incident seriously.
“We know from the uniforms and the unit patches,” Cucolo
said, that “the video was shot in the late 2003 to late 2004 time
frame. We know the unit, but have yet to identify the individuals
who were present three years ago. We consulted the appropriate
experts, who are making inquiries. We are trying to determine who
is responsible, as well as what actions can and should be taken.”
Although discharged U.S. soldiers–like Steven D. Green–can
be recalled to the military to face trial on felony charges,
throwing rocks at a dog is usually charged as a misdemeanor, if
charged at all.
“I ask to you understand this is not at all representative of
our soldiers,” Cucolo wrote. “My personal experience in 27 years of
service, deploying to difficult and challenging environments such as
the Balkans in the mid-1990s, and both Afghanistan and Iraq, is
that the overwhelming majority of American soldiers are kind to
animals, in particular dogs, because they remind us of home.
“This video has had other effects,” Cucolo continued. “My
duties include training senior officers and non-commissioned officers
(sergeants) who are headed to key command positions. I now use this
video to show Army leaders the far-reaching impact of the negative
acts of a misguided few.
“We will continue to pursue this issue and strive to see that
this does not happen again,” Cucolo promised.
Responded U.S. Army Sergeant Roy Batty, in e-mails to
Hoenig, “Unfortunately, this is pretty much standard soldier stuff.
If you take a bunch of young guys, stick them in a country where
people are trying to kill them, and have them live in a place which
is very boring except for the occasional moment of sheer terror,
some will react with cruelty. I’ve had to stop some of my own
soldiers from doing similar things.
“In a country where humans are brutally torturing and killing
other humans,” Batty added, “and dumping the carcasses in whatever
street, lot, or river is closest, for everyone to see, I would
question the logic behind trying to discipline a soldier for throwing
rocks at a dog.”
But historically, worldwide, what humans can do to a dog
with impunity sets the floor for what may be done to fellow humans.
The safer dogs are, the higher the general level of respect for
U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman, 46, in
November 2004 adopted and sent home a puppy named Lava while fighting
in Fallujah, in acknowledged violation of General Order 1A,
forbidding such rescues.
“We had to kill dogs while I was in Fallujah, when they
endangered our troops,” Koppelman posted to his personal web site.
“Yet I would never–not for one second–tolerate any of my troops
treating an animal as these soldiers have. This is the kind of
behavior that must require the Department of Defense to re-think
GO-1A. It should also be a wake-up call to the Department of the
Army that its recruiting practices and Big Army are terribly broken
if the people depicted in this video are typical of who they enlist.
We don’t need immature, ignorant and abusive people fighting this
war. Soldiers who have abused a helpless animal are not who should
be representing our country.”
Commented Humane Society of the U.S. senior policy advisor
Bernard Unti, “We are planning to act on the goal of securing
revisions to the Universal Code of Military Justice some time in
2007, on the assumption that it would help to minimize and eliminate
such incidents, and worse ones.”