British Blamed for Beast of Basra
Rumors that British troops have unleashed a dangerous monster in Basra are further complicating efforts to win the hearts and minds of locals.
British forces operating around the southern Iraqi city of Basra are being blamed for the arrival of a plague of vicious badgers that stalk the streets at night, attacking livestock and even humans.
Local farmers have caught and killed several of the beasts, but this has done nothing to dispel rumours of a bear-like monster that eats humans and was, according to the local rumour mill, released into the area by UK forces to spread panic.
Major David Gell, a British Army spokesman, said the animals were thought to be a kind of honey badger or ratel – melivora capensis – which can be fierce but are not usually dangerous to humans unless provoked.
Iraqi scientists have attempted to calm the public but the story of the British badgers has spread like wildfire through Basra and the surrounding villages.
Mushtaq Abdul-Mahdi, director of Basra’s veterinary hospital, has inspected the corpses of several dead badgers and sought to reassure his fellow citizens that they are not new to the region but had been seen well before Saddam’s ouster in 2003. “Talk that this animal was brought by the British forces is incorrect and unscientific,” Mr Abdul-Mahdi told AFP. But their numbers are increasing, possibly, scientists say, because Iraqi authorities are trying to reflood marshlands north of Basra that were drained under Saddam Hussein.
So far neither the scientists nor the soldiers have been able to calm the populace’s fears. “I was sleeping at night when this strange animal hit me on my head. I have not seen such an animal before. My husband hurried to shoot it but it was as swift as a deer,” said Suad Hassan, a 30-year-old housewife. “It is the size of a dog but his head is like a monkey. It runs so quickly.”
Via emailed tip from John Burgess, who assures me this sort of thing is commonplace.