Take a Western army wearing out its welcome. Add a large, sharp-toothed creature halfway between a bear and the Hound of the Baskervilles and provincial Iraqi newspapers eager to fill newsprint gaps left by vacationing government officials. What do you get....
... Apparently you get Basra residents convinced that the British Army has unleashed a veritable battalion of man- and cattle-eating badgers onto its unsuspecting populace as a final evil gesture before it departs the city later this summer. If that was not bad enough British soldiers have also planted snake eggs in waterways (that grow to 20 foot behemoths) and unleashed bomb-sniffing dogs purposefully infected with rabies.
The rumours seem to have started when a farmer claimed the beasts attacked his cattle. The story then ballooned with reports of at least one badger one killing humans. Things intensified when a video was circulated showing one of the animal captured and surrounded by nervous villagers. The British Army, currently as popular in Basra as a turd in a swimming pool were soon blamed, perhaps aided by the unfortunate coincidence that one of the British Army units serving in the city is named Badger Squadron.
A British military spokesman in Basra, rebutted all animal-related allegations: "Of course we categorically deny that we have released badgers into Basra. "It flies in the face of what we are primarily here to do, which is to set conditions that will enable the Iraqi security forces to have self-determination in their own security matters, which of course sets the conditions for good governance." A spokeswoman for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office was somewhat more succinct in denying the rumor. "Don't be silly," she said, after sighing.
The culprit is the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ratel Ratel or Honey Badger. It is also known as Al-Kirta locally. It has a wide distribution from Africa through to Easter Iran and is thus native to Iraq, although rare near Basra. According to Dr Ghazi Yaqub Azzam, deputy Dean of the Basra veterinary college, the animals were likely brought into contact with the local population as a result of efforts to re-flood marshland to the north of Basra city that had previously been drained by Saddam Hussein as part of his campaign against the Marsh Arabs. "Old people know of the Girta, but the younger generations are not as aware of these animals," according to Mushtaq Abdul-Aziz of Basra's Health Department.
The Honey Badger is a fearsome predator with a reputation for attacking animals much larger than itself, including humans so the stories of attacks are not beyond belief. Unfortunately for the conspiracy nuts in Iraq (and for Jihadists here who would jump on such a story – Why didn’t I read this first on Further Left?) it has a mundane explanation that has nothing to do with the British Army.