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IRAQ: Terrorism on four feet in Anbar

September 9, 2008 |  8:23 am

Allawi Atshan says he was minding his own business at home in a village in Anbar province when the attack began. But rather than insurgents wielding guns or setting off bombs, the predators who terrorized Atshan and his neighbors had long claws, made quick movements, and wore collars.

Locals are calling them "sheebs" and describe them as part wolf, part dog, and entirely vicious. The latest alleged sheeb attack occurred Saturday night near Karmah, a town north of Fallouja. Sheeb By some accounts, the collars supposedly worn by the animals prove they are under command and control of American forces. The military, which uses dogs similar to the one pictured to supplement human soldiers in tracking down insurgents and searching for bombs, denies knowing about these sheeb or having anything to do with them.

But Anbar has a frightening history and only in the past year has it emerged from the nightmare of life under the grip of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which used everything from crudely made chemical weapons to beheading to terrorize the population. Fear and suspicion run deep here, even though Anbar now is one of Iraq's calmer provinces.

A hospital worker in Karmah said five people were admitted after the Saturday night attack. Four were transferred to Baghdad hospitals for more treatment. The fifth, Atshan, says he lost part of his face when he was mauled.

"The doctors told me I need plastic surgery for my face," Atshan said after the attack. Atshan said a pack of the animals jumped on him and then tried to snatch a young child during a 2 a.m. attack. They were scared off when neighbors began shooting at them, he said.

The sheebs also were blamed for attacks north of Fallouja in August.

This isn't the first time Iraqis have been plagued by predatory animals, or blamed foreign troops on Iraqi soil for the problem. In the summer of 2007, rumors spread through the southern city of Basra that giant predatory badgers were the work of British forces using them to terrify the population. The animals turned out to be honey badgers, which are indeed aggressive and can weigh up to 30 pounds. The badgers' increased numbers were attributed to efforts under way at the time to reflood marshlands in the region that had been drained under Saddam Hussein's regime. 

Earlier this year, residents of villages surrounding Samawah, a city about 170 miles south of Baghdad, were plagued by packs of gray wolves devouring livestock and not scared off even by gunfire. The problem got so bad that the Samawah city council formed armed posses to drive them away.

While the military says it knows nothing about the latest strange animals said to be skulking about Anbar, its initial response indicated concern that such tales are being spread. Rather than replying to an e-mailed query seeking comment on the claims, the public affairs chief in Anbar asked for the name of the Iraqi reporter who was the source of the story. Later, another public affairs officer repeated the request for the reporter's name without addressing the question at hand. But more than 12 hours later,  the response came through in an e-mailed: "We are not familiar with any so-called sheeb."

-- From Times staff writers

Photo: No, it's not a sheeb. It's a military working dog named Iron exercising on a training range outside Baghdad. Credit: Tina Susman.

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