BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi lawmakers demanded on Saturday that security forces stop using a device used widely for detecting explosives which the British government says does not work.
Three major suicide bombings have killed at least 300 people in Baghdad since mid-August, and Iraqis have questioned how the attackers got trucks, buses and cars packed with explosives through the Iraqi capital’s numerous checkpoints.
Iraq has spent millions of dollars on the sensors used by soldiers and police at checkpoints to detect explosives in cars, and one Iraqi official said they were effective devices which had been tested before use.
However, Britain’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said on Friday it would ban exports to Iraq and Afghanistan of the ADE651 device, which is marketed by British company ATSC.
“Tests have shown that the technology used in the ADE651 and similar devices is not suitable for bomb detection,” it said in a statement, adding that the British Embassy in Baghdad had raised its concerns with the Iraqi authorities.
“We have offered cooperation with any investigation they may wish to make into the how the device came to be bought for their military as bomb detection equipment,” it said. “We will be making an order ... banning the export of this type of device to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
A department spokeswoman said a police investigation was underway into the device, adding: “It doesn’t work as bomb detection technology.” Police said they had arrested on suspicion of fraud a 53-year-old man from Yeovil in western England, where ATSC has its registered office.
“The force became aware of the existence of a piece of equipment around which there were many concerns, and in the interests of public safety, launched its investigation,” local police said in a statement.
In Iraq, Sunni lawmaker Hussain al-Falluji called on security forces to stop using the handheld gadgets, which have an antenna that is supposed to swivel when they detect traces of chemicals.
“I proposed to parliament the withdrawal of these machines from service, the formation of an investigative committee and that Iraq recover its money,” he told Reuters. Other parliamentarians have backed the suggestion.
U.S. forces in Iraq do not use the devices, which have been sold throughout the Middle East.
U.S. military officials declined to criticise them on Saturday although they have frequently urged their Iraqi counterparts to rely more on bomb-sniffing dogs and good training of soldiers and police.
“Actually, the machines in the street they call bomb detectors are of no benefit. They are only used to make us late,” taxi driver Qusay Shakir told Reuters Television, complaining about traffic jams which form at checkpoints.
At least some of the bomb detection devices used in Iraq were purchased from ATSC by a technical committee of the Interior Ministry, said the media director of the ministry’s explosives directorate, Colonel Satar Jabar.
Jabar said they had helped Iraqi security forces to prevent many attacks. “They are effective devices and they were tested before they were imported,” Jabar said, adding that soldiers and police often do not use the sensors properly.
“They have proven their efficiency in many military operations and have detected stocks of munitions.”
The Baghdad operations command, which is in charge of security in the capital, said it had nothing to do with the deployment of the devices.
“The devices have helped us in parts of our work but in some aspects they are not useful. Their performance does not match our aspirations,” said spokesman Major General Qassim al-Moussawi.
“There is some percent of error in their performance and these devices must be updated.”
Additional reporting by Saif Tawfeeq in Baghdad and David Milliken in London; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by David Stamp