A funeral procession for a victim of Sunday’s bombing in Baghdad. Photo: Haidar Hamdani/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered security services to stop using fake bomb detectors, known as ‘magic wands’, as he faces the rage of the grieving Iraqi population one day after the single most deadly attack on Baghdad this year.
The ADE651 was marketed to many countries, including Iraq, as a handheld bomb detector. It is a small wand with a telescopic antenna on a swivel that is supposed to detect explosive materials. Baghdad spent at least $85 million on the devices, putting one in nearly every checkpoint in the country.
The handheld wands were, in fact, developed to locate lost golf balls and are useless at detecting explosives. A retired US Air Force officer, Lt. Col. Hal Bidlack, said the wands worked “on the same principle as a Ouija board.”
Despite the lack of scientific evidence that the devices worked, the Iraqi government remained confident in them. “Whether it’s magic or scientific, what I care about is it detects bombs,” Maj. Gen. Jehad al-Jabiri, then head of the Ministry of the Interior’s General Directorate for Combating Explosives, said in 2009.
In 2010, the UK government introduced controls to prevent sales of the devices to Iraq and Afghanistan. James McCormick, the UK businessman who marketed them, is serving a 10 year jail term in Britain for endangering lives for profit. Four others involved are also serving jail terms over the bogus devices.
But even after the scandal broke and the prosecutions in the UK, the wands remained in regular use in Iraq.
Abadi has now ordered a new investigation into “corrupt deals” to purchase the ADE651 devices and ordered security forces to stop using them. He has also ordered more vehicle inspection systems to be put into place at entry points into the capital and other provinces.
Many are blaming Abadi and his government for the massive suicide attack on Sunday that killed more than 160 people. The people accuse the government of failing to protect civilians.
A suicide bomber blew up an explosive-laden pickup truck outside a busy shopping centre shortly after midnight on Sunday in the Karrada district of Baghdad. Many families were on the streets after breaking their Ramadan fast.
The blast set buildings in the area on fire. Officials said dozens burned to death or suffocated. Medical personnel were struggling to identify the charred bodies. Whole families are listed among the dead.
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, visiting the site of the bombing, was met by an angry mob throwing stones at his vehicle convoy, calling him a thief. Much of the Iraqi population is furious with the government, which they view as corrupt and self-serving, ignoring the needs of the people.
“The government is completely responsible for this daily bloodshed,” Abdullabas Ameen told the New York Times, speaking in the hospital where he was receiving treatment for shrapnel wounds from the bombing. One of his colleagues was killed.
Abadi released a statement reacting to the people’s anger, saying that he understood “the feelings and emotions and the actions of some people in their moment of sadness and anger.”
He declared three days of national mourning for the victims.
The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.