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58,000 dogs killed in Baghdad in campaign to curb attacks by strays

By Bushra Juhi
Sunday, July 11, 2010; A12

BAGHDAD -- Teams of veterinarians and police shooters have killed about 58,000 stray dogs in and around the Iraqi capital over the past three months as part of a campaign to curb an increasing number of strays blamed for attacks on residents.

The Baghdad provincial government said in a statement released Saturday that 20 teams have been moving around the city and the outer districts daily looking for and putting down the dogs, either by poisoning or shooting. The operation, which was first announced in late 2008, only truly took off this April, after funds were allocated.

The surge in strays -- estimated by provincial officials to number about 1.25 million -- is linked to what officials say is an improvement in some elements of daily life in Baghdad, which has been struggling to return to normalcy after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.

Officials with the provincial veterinary directorate said that with open-air markets and bustling city life returning, the dogs are able to find more food and are having bigger litters.

Figures for the number of attacks by packs of stray dogs were not available Saturday, the last day of the weekend in Iraq.

But officials said resident complaints have increased steadily in tandem with the rise in the stray population. In the capital, dogs have attacked children, killing some.

Efforts since the campaign was announced in 2008 have met with limited success because of a lack of funding and follow-through. Baghdad is not thought to have any dog shelters.

The teams begin their work daily at 6 a.m. and coordinate with security forces -- ostensibly to ensure that they aren't mistaken for insurgents and that they don't draw retaliatory fire.

Provincial officials said that before the teams move into an area, residents are also warned to not pick up meat they find on the ground because it could be the poisoned food used to lure and kill the dogs.

Under Hussein's regime, stray dogs were routinely shot. But their numbers grew steadily after the invasion, when more serious security issues sidelined efforts to deal with the dogs.

-- Associated Press

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