Baghdad, Oct. 21 (Reuters): A sniffer dog search sparked an anti-US protest in Baghdad today amid accusations of American insensitivity to Islamic culture.
“Down, down USA,” shouted thousands of government employees angered by the detention of a woman who refused to be searched by US soldiers using a sniffer dog at the oil ministry in Baghdad. Soldiers fired a few shots in the air to disperse workers from the oil and nearby ministries.
“I have been coming here for 27 years and now they (Americans) are searching us with dogs. We are Muslims,” Saadiya Ahmad, an oil ministry engineer said.
Dogs are considered unclean in Islamic culture.
“We don’t just want the dogs to leave. We want the dogs who are holding the dogs to leave, every last one of them,” said one employee, Nazir Mohammed.
A man who gave his name as Sabeeh said troops had handcuffed a woman employee and made her stand in the sun for an hour because she had refused the search.
Sniffer dogs are routinely used to search for explosives at government ministries to guard against bomb attacks.
In the north, pipelines that feed a Baghdad refinery and power station were ablaze, a day after a sabotage attack.
Iraqi Lieutenant-Colonel Khalid Mohammed Rashid, who works for a force protecting key installations, said an explosion had set fire to four pipelines just south of the Baiji oil refinery, 190 km north of Baghdad.
“What happened was sabotage,” he said, adding that one of the pipelines takes gas to Baghdad’s Daura refinery, while the two oil pipelines feed a power plant in the city. A fourth carries liquefied petroleum gas.
Baiji, north of ousted President Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit and the scene of past sabotage attacks, is the site of a refinery that receives crude via a pipeline from Iraq’s Kirkuk oilfields.
Sabotage has hit efforts to revive the oil industry.
Guerrillas have killed 104 U.S. soldiers since Washington declared major combat over on May 1.
Turkey's offer to send troops to back harried U.S. forces now looked likely to come to nothing, Turkish officials and analysts say.
The offer, sanctioned by parliament this month, has provoked strong protest both inside and outside Iraq and is deeply unpopular with the Turkish public.
A senior Foreign Ministry official, asked late on Monday if he thought Turkish soldiers would go to Iraq, replied: “I don't think so.”
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said at the weekend he preferred not to send troops if Iraqis did not want them, although the final decision rested with NATO ally Washington.
Washington now seems to be soft-pedalling the idea in the face of opposition from both the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and northern Iraqi Kurds Ä particularly after a United Nations resolution last week improved chances of winning military support from less controversial contributors.
Britain's Defence Minister Geoff Hoon made a brief visit to the British-controlled southern Shia city of Basra on Tuesday, which has been relatively stable since the war ended.
”I think largely British forces here in the south have dealt with those difficulties, particularly on the security side,” Hoon said in video footage released by the Ministry of Defence.
”Without being complacent, they have, I think, sorted out many of the kinds of problems that I saw for myself when I came here last May.”
But in other Shia cities, unrest within Iraq's long-oppressed Shia majority has been growing.
In the holy Shia city of Karbala, U.S.-led forces said they had secured the surrender at midnight of armed men who had taken refuge in a mosque after clashes with a rival Shi'ite group last week.
Violence is providing an uncertain backdrop to a two-day donors' conference on Iraq due to start in Madrid on Thursday. Spain hopes the event will underline international support for Iraq and raise a good part of the $56 billion estimated cost of rebuilding the country.
The U.S. administration in Iraq said an agreement creating a watchdog board to oversee how Washington spends Iraq's oil money would likely get final approval in the next day or two to coincide with the conference.
Many European nations will send lower-level delegations to the meeting, compared to a high-powered U.S. one, reflecting persistent European scepticism over the U.S.-led invasion.