For nearly a decade, anyone driving through one of Baghdad's many checkpoints was subjected to a search by a soldier pointing a security wand at their vehicle and watching the device intently to see if its antenna moved. If it pointed at the car, it had supposedly detected a possible bomb.
The wands were completely bogus. It had been proven years ago, even before 2013 when two British men were convicted in separate trials on fraud charges for selling the detectors. The devices, sold under various names for thousands of dollars each, apparently were based on a product that sold for about $20 and claimed to find golf balls.
Yet the Iraqi government continued to use the devices, spending nearly $60 million on them despite warnings by U.S. military commanders and the wands' proven failure to stop near-daily bombings in Baghdad.
It took a massive suicide bombing that killed almost 300 people in Baghdad on July 3 — the deadliest single attack in the capital in 13 years of war — for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to finally ban their use.
The reason it took so long is likely the widespread corruption in the government. Iraqis mocked the device from the start, joking that too much aftershave could set off the antenna.
Now there are accusations that plans to start using newly imported explosives-detecting scanners were intentionally held up as part of the political wrangling over which faction — the military or the police — will control security in Baghdad.
Since the wands were banned, soldiers at Baghdad checkpoints largely wave motorists through, occasionally asking for vehicle registrations and driver's licenses and taking a quick look inside. Plainclothes intelligence agents scrutinize drivers and passengers. Police dogs have been used at some checkpoints, but that has proven to be time-consuming and contributing to traffic congestion.
"The withdrawal of the device is continuing, but it's still in use here and there, for now," Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, the Interior Ministry's chief spokesman, told The Associated Press. He said the new vehicles equipped with scanners have been deployed at checkpoints on major roads leading to the capital.
"All this will have a positive impact on Baghdad's security," he said.
Officials say the explosives-laden minibus used in the July 3 attack in Baghdad's central Karradah district started its journey in Diyala province, traveling 50 kilometers (31 miles) to the capital. The vehicle, a type used as communal taxis in Iraq, would have encountered at least half a dozen checkpoints, most of which likely used the wand. Investigators say the vehicle carried a 250-kilogram (550-pound) bomb.
Four days after the Karradah bombing, three suicide bombers struck a Shiite shrine in Balad, north of Baghdad, killing 37 people. A series of small bombings also rocked the capital, killing about two dozen people.
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When Iraqi security forces first began using the ADE-651 wands, U.S. and British military commanders in Iraq dismissed the devices as useless and counseled the government to stop using them.
Faced with mounting criticism, former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the effectiveness of the devices in 2010. The outcome was inconclusive, and they continued to be used.
The head of the Interior Ministry's bomb squad department, Jihad al-Jabri, was convicted in 2012 and sentenced to four years in prison for accepting a bribe from the British manufacturers. But the case against him did not address whether the wands were effective. Many Iraqis believe he was a scapegoat to protect more senior Iraqi officials from prosecution.