BAGHDAD – The American military is stepping up the delivery of bomb-sniffing dogs to Iraq with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government under pressure for using equipment that may be ineffective in finding explosives.
The first 25 of 145 trained bomb-detection dogs are due to arrive Friday in Baghdad, Army Maj. Sylvester Wegwu told The Associated Press. The remaining 120 dogs will be delivered over the course of a year, said Wegwu, who works as military adviser to the Baghdad Police College.
The airlift follows a request to the U.S. military from Iraqi officials for more of the trained dogs, signaling that Iraq is looking to use other bomb-detection methods after questions were raised about the capabilities of a wand-like, bomb-detection device widely used at checkpoints across Iraq.
The dogs will be paired with Iraqi police handlers at the college and will undergo training as a team.
The dogs' arrival comes as U.S. and Iraqi officials warn of a possible increase in violence ahead of national elections slated for March 7.
The new Iraqi canine teams could be deployed within 45 days, with a handful of them out on Baghdad's streets ahead of the vote, said police Brig. Gen. Mohammad Mesheb Hajea, who oversees the training program.
Iraqi forces have been reluctant to expand the use of bomb-sniffing dogs until recently because of Muslim traditions that view dogs as unclean.
The dogs will be used to search cars, buildings and other areas, though they will not be used to check people for explosives unless a specific individual is a suspected bomber, Hajea said.
"Our culture is different from the European culture and the American culture," said Hajea, who also runs his own veterinary clinic in Baghdad. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has said Iraqi authorities have requested scanners capable of looking inside sealed portions of vehicles in addition to the dog teams.