All of Baghdad Keeps and Bears Arms


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Jeff White
May 15, 2003, 10:53 AM
USA Today
May 14, 2003
Pg. 6

All Of Baghdad Keeps And Bears Arms

A buyer's market for guns; nearly every home has one

By Cesar G. Soriano, USA Today

BAGHDAD — At a bustling market in the New Baghdad neighborhood, shoppers can buy fresh fruit, door hinges, fly swatters and enough guns and ammunition to outfit a small army.

A half-dozen arms dealers kneel on the sidewalk, their wares displayed on small rugs. An AK-47 goes for about $50. A Soviet-made hand grenade is $2.63. Bullets are as little as 5 cents each, but an AK-47 magazine clip containing 30 rounds goes for $2.10.

"Yes, I worry about the amount of weapons in our country," says Ahmid Kilaf, who is selling bullets that he carries loose in a pillowcase. "But what can I do? I can't find any other job."

U.S. forces have tried to close the open-air weapons bazaars, but the sellers usually just move to another location and resume business. The sound of gunfire echoing through alleys is so common that few Iraqis flinch at the noise.

There are at least a half-dozen weapons markets operating openly in Baghdad. They range from a handful of men selling one or two guns on the street to a dozen stalls at the old Al Kadimayr gun market. Sellers there do business out of wooden booths with up to 10 assault weapons hanging by straps above their heads. Shoppers frequently test the weapons by firing them into the air. That can send people hurrying into buildings as a precaution.

"This whole country was an arms cache," says Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of ground forces in Iraq.

Last week, the Army's V Corps hauled 250 truckloads of ammunition and weapons out of Baghdad, McKiernan says. Military officials have not decided whether they will be destroyed or used to equip a future Iraqi army, as was done in Afghanistan. "Do people have the authority to carry weapons and make their own rules? Absolutely not," McKiernan says. "We have apprehended many of those (dealers) and placed them in our confinement."

Virtually every Baghdad family already has a weapon at home. Thousands of rifles were distributed by Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party in the months before the war. The regime urged Baghdad residents to use them against invading American troops. Many guns were looted from military bases and carried off by soldiers who abandoned their units. Others were distributed before the 1991 Gulf War and during the war against Iran in the 1980s.

Gun dealer Hayder Alobaide says he sold six guns last week, including two pistols for $150 each. "We need to protect our families from Ali Baba (thieves)," Alobaide says. "And we may need to protect ourselves from Americans." He offers a reporter a stick of dynamite with a blasting cap for 79 cents.

"This isn't what I was doing before the war," says Jassim Mohammed, 30, a dealer at a gun market in the middle-class al-Mansour neighborhood. He used to make a living painting scores of portraits of Saddam for government offices and private stores across Iraq. "I had many, many commissions. I always had work."

After the collapse of Saddam's regime, he turned to arms dealing. Mohammed found four Kalashnikov rifles on the streets alongside dead Iraqi soldiers in early April, after U.S. forces entered the capital. "We feel 100% insecure because the American forces are not providing security for us," Mohammed says. "People are buying guns in order to defend themselves against looters and thieves."

Rivalries among merchants have spawned violence. Competitors clashed frequently at the Al Kadimayr gun market until a Shiite clergyman, Hussein Alssadeer, organized a militia to force the arms dealers out of the neighborhood.

The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the Pentagon agency overseeing postwar Iraq, acknowledges that the gun markets threaten security and stability. But agency officials say taking weapons out of private hands is not a priority. "It's a tough issue to tackle," spokesman Charles Heatly says. "Whether we'll license the weapons or offer a gun buy-back program, that will be determined later."

Contributing: Vivienne Walt in Baghdad

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longeyes
May 15, 2003, 11:17 AM
Another veiled anti-gun story. Too many of us obviously value "order" above freedom. It's easy to have "peace" if only one guy has all the power and all the guns. Nowadays, thanks to the soccer mom mentality sweeping the globe, people freak at the thought of any random eruption of "chaos" disrupting the placid continuum of their lives and want to build a political position on "let's not have any trouble." A very disturbing trend. Better a few outlaws than a subjugated culture.

BigG
May 15, 2003, 11:33 AM
Free enterprise. Don't you just love it? We need some good old capitalism here in places like NY, NJ, MA, and of course, Cali. :cool:

Destructo6
May 15, 2003, 02:04 PM
Where do I send my money order?

Kharn
May 15, 2003, 02:10 PM
At $2.10 per loaded magazine, and $0.05 per round, I think I'd just buy loaded mags, blast away, and then sell the empty mags on Ebay and buy more loaded ones.
But it would get kinda boring shooting AKs all day long after a few months...

Kharn

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