Military Dogs in Iraq Considered Best Partners

As you read through this article you might notice a Muslim tinge to it. For example, notice that the writer starts off saying that the...

Joy  |  May 23rd 2008


As you read through this article you might notice a Muslim tinge to it. For example, notice that the writer starts off saying that the dogs might bite or attack their handlers? Bite by accident, sure. Attack, I seriously doubt it.

And isn’t it convenient that the Iraqis are okay with Salukis because they find them useful but all other dogs are considered unclean? Now I think Salukis are gorgeous but is there anything different about them to make them religiously acceptable? I doubt it. I suspect this is just a case of religious justification and that culturally Iraqis don’t like dogs.

So what does this mean when Muslims in other parts of the world claim their religious beliefs require they not interact with dogs, as in the case of Taxis or schools with guide dog protected children? It tells me, once again, that their distaste for dogs is just that, a cultural or personal dislike, and not a real religious issue.

Thanks to John D. for barking in this article from Yahoo News.

In Iraq, a Marine’s best friend is a dog with 42 teeth
By Raviya H. Ismail, McClatchy Newspapers
Thu May 22

AL ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq Although getting bitten or attacked by their partners is an occupational hazard, Marines on the al Asad airbase northwest of Baghdad say theirs is the most coveted job in the military.

After all, they’re paired up with what Westerners although not all Muslims consider man’s best friend. This sprawling base’s K-9 teams, which consist of one dog and one Marine, are a mainstay in Iraq’s once restive Sunni Muslim Anbar province.

More than four dozen teams are working in the province with dogs that are trained to attack and subdue detainees and track insurgents. Nowadays, the dogs are used primarily to detect explosives, either on or off a leash and as much as 500 feet from their handlers.

“Nobody had ever utilized dogs in a real combat offensive since Vietnam ,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Evans , of the Provost Marshals Office at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, based at Twenty Nine Palms, Calif. “A lot of the knowledge and a lot of the know-how has slipped away through time, so we really had to reinvent the application of our jobs on the fly.”

Since the beginning of the war, two handlers from the kennel have been killed in action and four dogs and seven handlers have been wounded, said Evans, 28, of Heavener, Okla. , who trains dogs and handlers at the al Asad kennel.

Evans has been working with military dogs for the last eight years, and one of his primary duties is to act as a decoy.

One hot Sunday afternoon recently, he demonstrated how he slips on protective arm gear and allows a male Belgian Malinois named Arzan to go to town. Evans winced when the dog bit his arm, but he allowed the demonstration to continue. The average Malinois has a top speed of 45 mph, 42 teeth and can bite with as much as 1,200 pounds per square inch of force.

When Evans removed the cushioned sleeves, Arzan’s teeth marks were visible on his arm, along with some broken skin and blood. Evans shrugged. Acting as a decoy, he’s been bitten more than 50 times.

In addition to the Belgian Malinois, there are German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers at the al Asad kennel.

The Department of Defense buys them from breeders in Germany , Holland , the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Europe when they’re around 18 months old. They cost $3,000 to $7,000 each.

New recruits are immediately flown to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tex. , where handlers and dogs train together for three months before they’re deployed abroad.

“That is their sponge period,” Evans said. “When they’re really inside their learning phase.”

German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois are used primarily as attack dogs. Labrador Retrievers have several inches of olfactory membranes in their noses, and their highly developed sense of smell helps them detect explosives. A human’s olfactory membrane, in comparison, is the size of a postage stamp.

“The one thing that keeps us in business is that these dogs don’t know that we can’t do what they do,” Evans said. “If they ever figure out the truth of the game, they’ll never work for us again.”

In a demonstration, Ireland , a three-year-old Labrador Retriever, used her highly evolved nose to detect real bombs. She started sniffing the ground immediately, letting her nose lead her. She came to a spot and sat on her haunches. There was no bomb there but three days ago, there was.

“She picked up on the three-day-old residual,” Evans marveled.

Ireland continued her search and found the bombs in seconds. She deferred to her handler, who gave her a ball as a sign of mission accomplished.

German Shepherds are excellent problem-solving dogs, but they’re slower and more methodical than Belgian Malinois, which are “highly driven” and hardier, Evans said. A German Shepherd’s life span is up to nine years, while a Belgian Malinois can live as long as 11 years.

The dogs have the same rights as Marines do, although wounded humans always take priority over wounded dogs, Evans said. The dogs receive premium medical care and eat Science Diet Active, which the military considers the most nutritious food for its dogs.

Some Iraqis, however, resent the high priority the military gives its dogs.

“Iraqi citizens have lost all their rights, but dogs have rights?” said Wafa Dawood , who’s searched whenever she enters Baghdad’s Green Zone, the fortified space where U.S. and Iraqi officials live and work.

Nasreen Rahman said that having dogs search her is humiliating. “It’s like I’m a terrorist or I’ve done something wrong,” she said.

She, too, found irony in the fact that the military’s dogs have more rights than Iraqi citizens.

“This is our country, this is our land, and we are the people of this land,” she said. “But the dogs are treated better than us.”

Some Iraqis’ reaction to the military dogs may be heightened by the fact that many Arabs and Muslims consider dogs “kelb” scavengers that are unclean. (One exception is the Saluki, a desert hunting dog favored by Arabs for centuries.)

Nevertheless, Arzan and his fellow four-legged Marines are in Iraq to stay, at least as long as American troops do.

“Our dog is our partner, our dog is our back-up man,” Evans said.

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