Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Two US Humvees moved slowly through the west Baghdad neighbourhood of al-Jihad when a 12-year-old ran into the street. "Bastards!" he shouted, peppering the vehicle with pellets from his plastic Kalashnikov.
One of the Humvee's gunners swivelled his top-mounted machinegun to target the boy, but relaxed when he realised the rifle was harmless.
The boy’s parents dragged him back into their yard, cuffing him about the head. They shouted, "You could have been killed!”
Baghdad is deluged not only with real guns, but toy guns too.
Every corner-store is festooned with realistic pistols and plastic Kalashnikovs, while children play Americans versus Mujahideen.
"The profits are high, and the work is easy,” said Alaa al-Kurdi in Shurja, who changed his stock-in-trade from cosmetics to toys.
The authorities have tried to discourage the toy trade. Posters hanging in Baghdad’s Firdous Square show a US soldier aiming his weapon at a child with toy gun.
The poster warns, "Don't endanger your children by letting them play with such toys in front of the Americans because they will get killed.”
Merchants say Iraq's wars and gun culture have combined with rising crime rates to create a society in which weapons ownership seems normal.
Parents also tend to indulge their children's fascination with firearms.
"You must give a weapon to me," seven-year-old Mustafa told his father, Abed Rahim.
"I am afraid that if a thief attacks the house and you are not available, I will have to defend the house with my own weapon."
Abed Rahim chuckled, and the next day bought his son a toy pistol.
Yet the combination of toy gun ownership and Iraq's adult gun culture sometimes can have dangerous consequences.
Abbas was showing friends his new pistol, which he had received the day before at his ninth birthday party.
According to his family, the children were playing cops and robbers, when Abbas hit his friend Satar Jumaa in the eye with a plastic pellet.
Blood ran down the child's face, and he was rushed to the emergency room. The child's eye was saved, but Satar was in hospital for a week.
Shortly thereafter, Satar's father Jumaa Luai sent members of his tribe to Rahma's house, promising "problems" if the father did not pay the full 300,000 dinar of treatment, plus another 500,000 dinars in compensation for lost wages while he was staying in the hospital with his son.
Even though Satar received a daily wage of 7,000 dinars, he paid up, rather than risk a tribal dispute that could involve real guns.
Muhammad Fawzi is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.
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