Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

War Ends, but Iraq Battle over Small Arms Just Begins

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

War Ends, but Iraq Battle over Small Arms Just Begins

Article excerpt

While President Bush may have declared that major US ground and air combat is over, fighting on Iraqi streets has not ended. As debates grind on about the government of a postwar Iraq and searches continue for hidden weapons of mass destruction, there is an increasing threat to US soldiers in Iraq and the Iraqi population as well: small arms and light weapons.

Whatever course the US takes in the rebuilding of Iraq, the reality is that millions of these weapons will have to be dealt with.

Iraq, one of the most heavily armed countries in the world, is believed to harbor enough guns to arm every one of its 24 million citizens. Iraqi civilians also have access to other light weapons, such as rocket- propelled grenades, mortars, and bombs - making their arsenals potentially more deadly.

In the absence of a governing force in Iraq, some Iraqis are looking to increase their personal weapons caches in order to protect themselves from looters and roving armed gangs; others want small arms to conduct illegal activities and gain political power. Reports have surfaced that gun merchants have set up shop on the streets of Baghdad, selling AK-47s for as little as $10.

With its pervasive gun culture, Iraq's reliance on small arms is nothing new. Journalists in the field have long reported a saying common among Iraqis: "Give everything to your friend, except your car, your wife, and your gun." Guns represent power, domination, and strength in a country where war and conflict have been the norm for decades. Even children recognize guns as an important aspect of daily life.

Saddam Hussein had hoped the Iraqi people would use their small arms to rise up and fight off advancing US troops. That didn't happen. It is likely, however, that these millions of military weapons in the hands of civilians will have a significant impact in the aftermath of this war. The lawlessness following the fall of the Iraqi government will make the use of small arms even more appealing for gaining power, committing crimes, and causing general insecurity. …

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