Outrage as mayor’s office, police, and city team up to shoot stray dogs in Kirkuk

Dogs roam in an animal shelter in the Kurdistan Region. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)
Dogs roam in an animal shelter in the Kurdistan Region. (Photo: Kurdistan 24)

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Graphic images have circulated on Kurdish and Arabic social media this week showing uniformed police shooting huddled and frightened stray dogs on the streets of Kirkuk. A series of photographs and videos, first posted on June 11, show just the latest campaign to wipe out the stray canine population in the city, and immediately led to a backlash against officials.

Kurdistan 24 reviewed photographs and videos and has chosen not to republish them as they contain graphic scenes of death. 

More than 170 dogs have been killed in the past week, according to officials in the province.

The mass killing is part of a campaign by local authorities to reduce the stray dog population after complaints they have harassed and endangered people, local officials in Kirkuk told Kurdistan 24.

The number of stray dogs is rising as the government has no scheme to properly handle the population of native and abandoned animals. Due to lack of care, they are prone to communicable disease, including the deadly canine parvovirus – a relative of coronavirus – and are often killed in car accidents or by people who fear them.

Officers who boasted earlier this week about their successful campaign soon withdrew statements and removed social media posts in response to the widespread outcry over their brutal handling of the situation.

One official from the local Kirkuk administration refused to speak to Kurdistan 24 about the eradication effort, citing “the outrage” from the public.

The oil-rich province struggles with numerous public health issues, including waste management, which regularly prompts local protests. Yet authorities have used their scarce public resources to finance the bullets police are now using to kill dogs.

“The Administration paid for the bullets,” said one local official who spoke to Kurdistan 24 on the condition of anonymity.

The campaign is jointly executed by three public bodies: the local police, the mayor’s office, and the municipality. 

The mayor’s office locates stray dog populations for the police, who turn up to shoot them. The municipality later dumps their dead bodies, the official explained.

Sulaiman Tameer, a veterinarian from Duhok province and the head of the Kurdistan Organization for Animal Rights protection, said he strongly condemned the act and found the approach “a failed one” when it comes to dealing with stray dogs.

“Neutering is one of the healthy ways of controlling the population,” Tameer told Kurdistan 24, decrying the current approach as dangerous to both animals and people, recalling an incident from 2008 when a police officer aiming for a dog instead shot and killed a local woman.

Iraq has no animal welfare laws, but the existing legal code allows provincial authorities to kill stray animals with bullets and poison.

“This way of dealing with animals is banned across the globe,” Tameer stressed, citing the long-term health consequences of poison on the soil, and the amount of pain a dog suffers while it is dying.

He argued instead that the local dog population is an essential part of society as the animals help maintain “biodiversity balance” and live on the abundant food waste left by people.

Additional reporting by Soran Kamaran and Hemin Dalo in Kirkuk.