Business Booms for Arms Traders

Villagers do roaring trade in sale of weapons to country's growing bands of insurgents.

Business Booms for Arms Traders

Villagers do roaring trade in sale of weapons to country's growing bands of insurgents.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

If you want to discover the source of many of the weapons used in the current insurgency, look for a man on a street corner in Baaqouba al-Qadima.

If you come recommended by someone he trusts, he'll take you to a farm on the outskirts of the village, where his helpers will unearth former Iraqi army stock, wrapped in sheets of plastic.

Rounds for an ordinary Kalashnikov assault rifle have doubled from 250 dinars, or about 15 US cents, to 500 dinars each, while a Strella anti-aircraft missile has risen from the equivalent of 450 to 700 dollars.

Prices have risen due to buyers like Abu Fahd.

An inhabitant of the Baghdad suburb of Zaafaraniya, he has come to this rural area to buy weapons for members of his tribe fighting against US Marines in Fallujah.

"We are now going to Fallujah to fight the occupation after getting missiles from Diala [the province of which Baaqouba al-Qadima is part]," said Abu Fahd.

"Members of my tribe living in Fallujah need support from all the cities of Iraq," he continued, adding that "we live in Zaafaraniya, and all of us from the Dulaim tribe are going to Falluja".

Traders in the mixed Sunni-Shia village say they also supply the Mahdi Army, a force loyal to the radical Shia preacher, Muqtada al-Sadr.

According to a youth who peddles in bullets in the village's main market, the community's wealth of weapons comes from a Republican Guard brigade base that was abandoned during the war.

"We sell weapons, but we don't get involved in the resistance, and we don't care if our buyers use the weapons to resist the Americans, to rob or to murder," the youngster said.

Diala provincial police are trying to shut down the weapons vendors but are not having much success.

"We caught some of the arms sellers in Diala, but there are others out there," said policeman Khaled Rahman.

Unreliable officers may be warning weapons traders, as the police force no longer requires the tight background checks that the former regime insisted on.

"Anyone can join the Iraqi police in this current situation," Rahman said. "It's possible that some members of the resistance are also members of the police."

Many locals are proud that Diala is serving as Iraq's arsenal.

As a result, said money-changer Hamed Hussein, locals do not inform the police about the trade, and let the vendors know if they hear of any impending raids "so they can quickly clear out".

But Diala is not just a market for arms, it also is a showcase for their use.

At 9.00 pm, the main market in the provincial capital of Baaqouba empties as US forces respond to the apparent discovery of a bomb.

Minutes later, a pop, a shrill hiss and a blast signify an RPG-7 attack. This time, no one is hurt.

Traders say it's a common tactic employed by insurgents is to issue a fake bomb threat, then ambush the Americans when they come to defuse it.

"The Americans clear out the place, then gather together in an easy target for a rocket," said local Jasem Halim.

He says it is "the best way to attack a large number of US vehicles while keeping the citizens safe".

Aqil Jabbar is an IWPR trainee.

Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq
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