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MAHMUDIYAH, Iraq — The feral dogs of Mahmudiyah have thrived since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The old regime had programs to winnow the number of strays but years of unrest and violence in the region just south of Baghdad left them to multiply. The dogs roam through the city, sniffing around the central market, sleeping in the sun and digging through trash heaps.

Occasionally, they bite someone. "So many dogs show up from all the villages," said Mahmudiyah city council chairman Talib Abbas al Masudy. "A few dogs, they attacked a lady and bit her legs." The strays went unchecked while coalition and Iraq forces battled al-Qaida and local militias in an area once known as the "Triangle of Death."

But a steep decline in violence beginning this spring has loosened the war’s grip over the city. Its streets were bustling Monday with groups of women, schoolchildren and open shops. The peace also allows the city government to begin focusing on basic services.

In the city meeting hall, officials were loudly debating Monday what to do about the feral dogs while a group of soldiers from Forward Operating Base Mahmudiyah looked on.

The council chairman asked for help from Lt. Col. Jim Bradford, commander of 1st Battalion, 63rd Armored Regiment, which is attached to 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. The battalion was deployed in October and now oversees the Mahmudiyah region, which includes the city and surrounding area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

The Iraqis had tried killing the dogs with poisoned meat, but the dogs would not eat it. Some in the city were now planning to use hunting rifles to kill the animals, al Masudy said. Bradford told the gathered city councilmen and city officials that there simply was no coalition program for eliminating unwanted dogs.

The city council decided it would appeal to the Ministry of Health for help with the problem.

"It’s good they are not looking to the coalition and the Iraqi army and saying, ‘Just shoot the dogs,’ " Bradford said.

In Baghdad, authorities killed hundreds of dogs last month in a campaign to manage roaming packs. The campaign, prompted by a spate of attacks on residents, started in western Baghdad and was to move to the eastern half of the city early next year.

Thirteen people died in August alone in the capital after being attacked by dogs, according to Baghdad’s provincial council, which is overseeing the campaign.

In Mahmudiyah, the feral dog debate falls in the category of what Bradford calls "good problems" — those that arise from progress in the area. "I would say three or four months ago, the conversation was security, security, security," he said.

Now that the city is not consumed by safety issues, it has begun to piece together priorities for improving public services such as schools, Bradford said.

Needing services and equipment for schools is a "good problem" because it means students are returning, he said.

It had just begun work on the feral dog problem, al Masudy said, and on Monday there was a lot of talk but no solution in sight.

Still, in Mamuhdiyah, that is progress.


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