July 13, 2007 — -- Something's afoot in Basra… Supposed sightings of a ferocious man-eating creature roaming the streets of the southern Iraqi city have been causing panic among the local residents of late.
Then rumors spread that the British army had deliberately introduced these strange animals to frighten the population when they were spotted near the British army base at the airport.
One local housewife, Suad Hassan, even claimed she had been attacked by one of the creatures as she slept.
"My husband hurried to shoot it but it was as swift as a deer," she said. "It is the size of a dog but his head is like a monkey," she told the AFP news agency.
Several of the creatures have been captured and killed and were later identified by experts as honey badgers. The director of the local veterinarian hospital had inspected them, and said rather than being British imports they are in fact indigenous to the area.
"These appeared before the fall of the regime in 1986. They are known locally as al Girta… Talk that this animal was brought by the British forces is incorrect and unscientific," he told AFP.
The honey badger or Mellivora capensis is by its nature quite a vicious creature. This carnivorous animal feeds on reptiles, fish, birds and, rather unsurprisingly, honey. They are also believed to instinctively attack the genitals of larger mammals that are unfortunate enough to disturb them.
British military spokesman Maj. Mike Shearer categorically denied that they had released such creatures into the wild: "We've been accused of releasing reptile eggs into the Shatt al Arab waterway and then releasing badgers…this flies in the face of what we're trying to do here which is to establish a secure environment."
However, he could confirm a badger sighting on their base -- a whole squadron of them from 2 Royal Tank Regiment which is serving in Basra as part of the Irish Guards Battlegroup, within 1 Mechanized Brigade.
This particular badger takes its name from a tank that was commanded as a radio call sign, a tradition going back to the 1930s when wireless radios were first introduced. The present badger is Maj. Mike Longman, who commands 86 other "badgers" as part of the squadron. He claims they are a friendly lot but, like the native honey badger, "react strongly to any enemy threat."
The main task of these badgers is training Iraqi security forces to keep up with the demands of the volatile security situation in Basra ahead of the British troop reduction later this year.