British army spokesman Major David Gell said the animals were thought to be a kind of honey badger – melivora capensis – which can be fierce but are not usually dangerous to humans unless provoked.
“They are native to the region but rare in Iraq. They’re nocturnal carnivores with a fearsome reputation, but they don’t stalk humans and carry them back to their lair,” he said. Both the scientists and the soldiers agree that the badger ought not to be a danger to humans, but so far they have failed to reassure the populace.
“I was sleeping at night when this strange animal hit me on my head. I have not seen such an animal before. My husband hurried to shoot it but it was as swift as a deer,” Suad Hassan, a 30-year-old housewife said. “It is the size of a dog but his head is like a monkey. It runs so quickly.”
Cell phone video of the badgers circulating in Basra shows a stocky skunk-like animal with long front claws. The honey badger, or ratel, is known as a brave predator capable of killing a cobra. It weighs up to 14kg.
Sattar Jabbar, a 50-year-old local farmer from Abu Sakhar north of Basra, believes the badger can tackle even large prey. “I saw it three days ago at night attacking animals. It even ate a cow. It tore the cow up piece by piece. I tried to shoot it with my gun but it ran away into the orchards. I missed it,” he said.