Iraq counts on magic wands to stop ISIS

The Daily Beast: Last summer, in the days after the group now known as ISIS began its assault across Iraq, many feared that Baghdad could soon fall. Car bombs regularly killed dozens inside the capital. Police and soldiers manned checkpoints across the city. They were Baghdad’s defense and symbols of the state’s power in the face of onslaught. To protect the capital, these cops and soldiers were armed with magic wands. They still are now, nearly a year later.

Across Iraq, members of the security forces carry these magic wands—Rube Goldberg gadgets supposedly designed to detect explosives. The walkie talkie-sized instruments, as ubiquitous in Baghdad as radios are on cops in the United States, are useless pieces of plastic and a required piece of equipment. They were purchased by the Iraqi government for millions of dollars and are still in use to this day, waved around cars like divining rods, two years after a British con man was sentenced to prison for selling them.

Iraqi police officer Salim Abdul Zahra, 33, wielded one of the wands while manning a checkpoint in Baghdad last December. “Want the truth?” Zahra asked after some preliminary explanation about how the detector was supposed to be used. “It is worthless and fake,” he said. “The proof is all the explosions that still happen here.”

But though the wand didn’t work, he said he had to wave it around. Ultimately, if he didn’t use the wand, which he and his fellow officers knew was worthless, he would stick out. “What I can do?” he asked. “I follow the orders and use it.”

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