The Dogs (and Cats) of War

In Iraq, can compassion for animals coexist with military strategy?
The Dogs (and Cats) of War

Despite its struggles with Sunni jihadists, Shiite radicals, and Kurd separatists, Baghdad's government is now training its sights on a new enemy: furry feral critters. Iraq is spending 35 million Iraqi dinars—$30,000—to send 20 teams of shotgun-wielding squads in search of the capital's strays. Their goal: Kill one million wild dogs. So far, they've scratched 42,000. And they're averaging 2,400 every day. "We could consider this the biggest campaign of dog execution ever," says Baghdad's chief veterinarian, Mohammed al-Hilly.

That's likely a tough pill to swallow for Americans on the homefront and US service members in Iraq, who have a tendency to forge strong bonds with their cats and dogs. From the SPCA International's Operation Baghdad Pups to the Baghdad Cat Lady to Marine Maj. Brian Dennis and Nubs, hundreds of service members and contractors in Iraq have adopted Iraqi strays and brought them home, finding in them an important source of strength, solace and companionship 7,000 miles from the hearth.

But in fact, the military follows the Iraqi government's lead, albeit in a more humane way. It contracts with KBR to provide "vector control"—essentially pest extermination—on big installations like Victory Base Complex on Baghdad's outskirts. KBR's employees roam those bases, rounding up any animals they find, even (and especially) those being sheltered by the troops. All the animals are destroyed.

The photos here reflect the conflicting attitudes toward animals in Iraq's war zone: Workers, companions, public threats, nuisances. Some of the later images are graphic or disturbing. But all capture a facet of a drawn-out war that's not well-known.

Read Mother Jones' full story on animal eradication in Iraq, as well as the measures some soldiers take to rescue their adopted pets: "Iraq's Slumdog Massacre: One Million Dogs Face Death."