Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Searches Target Iraqi Donkeys

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Since guerrillas used donkeys to outwit the high-tech defenses of the U.S. military in Iraq, the life of the beast of burden has never been so miserable.

Attackers used donkey carts to launch Katyusha rockets at the Oil Ministry and two fortified Baghdad hotels on Friday. Two other donkey carts were stopped -- one carrying more rockets, the other a donkey-bomb wired up with explosives.

Every donkey in Baghdad is suddenly under suspicion as U.S. President George W. Bush wages a global war on terror.

In a crackdown on an animal that already suffers multiple daily whippings, U.S. soldiers with automatic rifles regularly stop and search donkey carts for weapons.

Donkey owners say gas stations have been refusing to sell them fuel for resale since the rocket attacks. The animals salivate and wheeze with exhaustion as they pull their owners and heavy loads across the potholed streets of the Iraqi capital in a desperate search for kerosene.

"I have five daughters to feed. I used to make 7,000 dinars a day [$3.74]. Now I earn only 2,000 since the Americans started pressuring us after the rocket attacks," Jabar Mahdi said. "We ask the gas station managers for kerosene and they refuse. What did we do to get treated like this?"

Even before the rocket attacks, donkey cart drivers were some of the least respected people in Iraq, living on the fringes of society in teeming slums.

Some fear Iraqis will now look down on them even more as they navigate their battered, bloodstained donkeys through chaotic traffic.

"When they see us ride by, they call us terrorists. They accuse us of being Saddam's guerrillas and causing all of the security problems in Iraq," Hikmat Sabeeh said.

"We had nothing to do with the rocket attacks."

The attacks could not have come at a worse time for donkey cart owners, who can barely afford to buy newspapers to read about the rockets and bombs that have shaken Baghdad.

U.S. troops are pounding the country in major operations designed to root out guerrillas who have killed 185 of their comrades since Washington declared major combat over on May 1.

They are not taking any chances, so donkey owners fear getting caught up in a security crisis in postwar Iraq.

Ali Kathim woke up two days after the rocket attacks to find his donkey was missing.

"My friends said they saw the Americans take my donkey away," he said. "I have not been able to work for four days. I just sit around. I don't know if I will get the donkey back."

Donkeys are not alone. Horses also face new checks.

"The Americans always check our horse carriages. Every time we ride around, they stop us and check our wooden boxes for weapons," said Ali Hassan in the muddy streets of the Sadr City slum, as horse owners bought kerosene among piles of rotten garbage swarming with flies.