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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 February 2008, 15:35 GMT
Iraqi police detain street people
An paralysed beggar sits outside shops in Baghdad's al-Shaab neighbourhood (29 January 2008)
Officials said the measures were to protect people living on the streets
Iraqi security forces have been ordered to detain beggars and mentally ill people found on Baghdad's streets who could be exploited by militants.

The Iraqi interior ministry confirmed the order went into effect on Tuesday and that a handful of such people had been picked up from the streets so far.

Those detained will be sent to mental institutions or back to their families.

The policy follows allegations that two recent suicide bombings were carried out by mentally ill women.

The simultaneous attacks on two Baghdad animal markets on 1 February killed at least 98 people, the deadliest blasts for months in the capital.

Last week, Iraqi forces detained an administrator at the Rashad psychiatric hospital in city in connection with the bombings.

The US military said the man was suspected of supplying information about patients to al-Qaeda in Iraq and exploiting the mentally impaired.

`Psychiatric issues'

On Wednesday, Iraqi interior ministry spokesman Maj-Gen Abdul Karim Khalaf confirmed police had been ordered to begin detaining people living on the streets as they might be vulnerable to exploitation by militant groups.

These groups are either luring those who desperate for money to help them in their attacks or making use of their poor mental condition to use them as suicide bombers
Maj-Gen Abdul Karim Khalaf
Iraqi Interior Ministry

"Militant groups, like al-Qaeda in Iraq, have started exploiting these people in a very bad manner to kill innocents as they do not raise suspicions," he told the Associated Press.

"These groups are either luring those who are desperate for money to help them in their attacks or making use of their poor mental condition to use them as suicide bombers," he added.

Mentally ill and disabled people picked up by the police will be sent to mental institutions, while the authorities will try to locate the families of beggars or street children and make them responsible for keeping them off the streets.

The actions are being taken under laws prevailing at the time of the former Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein.

An Iraqi soldier stands beside the shoes of dead and wounded from Friday's Ghazil market blast, 1 February 2008
The market bombings were the deadliest for months in Baghdad

A spokesman for the US military, Admiral Gregory Smith, later confirmed it was aware of the interior ministry's efforts "to try and protect homeless and mentally impaired citizens from becoming the unwitting victims of al-Qaeda in Iraq".

Adm Smith said the two women who had carried out the twin suicide bombings in Baghdad earlier this month had undergone psychiatric treatment for depression and schizophrenia, but stressed there was no indication they had Down's syndrome.

"The two that were involved in the pet market bombings most certainly had a history of psychiatric treatment," he told reporters in Baghdad.

"We are completely informed of their case files. We know precisely who the women are. We do have certain proof that these women had been treated extensively for psychiatric issues."

The use of the women in the suicide bombings prompted the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to describe al-Qaeda in Iraq "the most brutal and bankrupt of movements".

Twin bombs kill scores in Baghdad
01 Feb 08 |  Middle East

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