Iraq Gun Shops Thrive amid Call for Arms Control
Small drones, missiles and mortars are among a series of weapons found in markets in Baghdad and across the country, with citizens possessing millions of unlicensed arms and ammunition in a phenomenon that has raised concerns.
Dr. Hisham al-Hashemi, a security expert, told Asharq Al-Awsat that people in Iraq have gone from possessing light and medium arms to heavy weapons, sometimes storing them in depots similar to warehouses operated by the Iraqi armed forces.
Although the black market for arms is thriving across Iraq, shoppers can buy handguns and semi-automatic rifles legally in places such as the Maridi market in Sadr city, east of Baghdad.
According to a UN report on arms proliferation in the Arab world, Iraq had the lion’s share in terms of the number and types of arms found in the people’s hands.
Earlier this month, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi issued a decree ordering the integration of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) into the military.
He also ordered that groups that are not affiliated with the PMF to choose between joining political work or face prosecution.
Those who choose to integrate into the military must abandon their old names and sever ties to political groups. Those who choose politics will not be allowed to carry weapons, the decree said.
The decision has created controversy in Iraq, with not a single faction so far announcing willingness to give up its arms.
In December 2017, Abdul Mahdi had issued a decision on handing over arms to the state.
Hashemi says that the authorities have a complicated task in taking control of depots falling outside the control of the state over fears that any raid would result in deadly gunbattles.
But retired military expert Brig. Gen. Daya al-Wakeel said “the government is serious in limiting the possession of arms to the state.”
He called for greater political cooperation among the country’s different factions to implement Abdul Mahdi’s latest decision.