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Iraq official warned against anti-bomb device buy

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq’s interior ministry was told two years ago not to buy an explosives detector that Britain says does not work, and the purchase of the sensors was tainted by suspected fraud, a senior official said on Sunday.

Aqeel al-Turaihi, the inspector general of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, said he investigated the explosives sensors sold by British firm ATSC two years ago and found them “inoperative” and costly. He recommended that Iraq should not buy the devices.

“There was corruption associated with this contract and we referred to this and submitted our report to the Minister of the Interior,” Turaihi told Reuters. He did not elaborate on the corruption allegations.

“We said that the company which you made a contract with is not well-regarded internationally in the field of explosives detectors, and the price is very high and not commensurate with the abilities of this device,” Turaihi added.

It was not clear why more was not done after the inspector general’s report to prevent more purchases of the device or to take them out of circulation.

Some Iraqi officials have defended the device sold by ATSC, and Turaihi said his initial investigation found it could detect some bombs.

But Britain’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said on Friday it would ban exports to Iraq and Afghanistan of the ADE651 sensor. British police have also arrested the owner of the company that markets the gadget on suspicion of fraud, British officials said.

Turaihi said Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki set up a special high-ranking committee following his initial unfavourable report on the sensors two years ago.

That committee also recommended that the device should not be purchased by Iraqi authorities but was not asked to rule on whether the gadgets ought to be taken off the streets.

Maliki set up another committee to investigate following critical newspaper stories late last year, he said.

“The committee will deliver its recommendations in two days,” Turaihi said.

Suspected al Qaeda insurgents have conducted three major assaults on the Iraqi capital since August in which at least 300 people died. The attackers managed to get cars, trucks and buses laden with explosives through the multiple checkpoints that choke Baghdad’s main arteries.

Iraqi lawmakers have demanded that security forces stop using the detectors and that the government try to get its money back. Iraq has reportedly spent tens of millions of dollars on the devices.

Some Iraqi officials have defended them, saying they do work and have detected many bombs and munitions stockpiles.

The British Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said tests had found the sensors did not qualify as bomb detection technology.

The handheld gadgets have an antenna that is supposed to swivel when they detect traces of chemicals. The BBC said it had given one of the devices to a laboratory and found it contained the same components as anti-theft tags used in stores.

Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton