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Pre-Election Gun Boom in Baghdad

Residents see troubled days ahead, and think it's time to keep their powder dry.
By Haider al-Moosawi

Zaid Fawzy has come to a crowded Baghdad market with one purpose in mind – to get hold of a pistol before the January 30 election.

“I want to buy a gun quickly to protect myself and my family before the election comes,” said Fawzy, who works for Iraq's oil ministry.

Fears of violence during and after the election have caused a boom in gun sales on the black market in Baghdad. Recent demand has added 150 US dollars to the price of pistols and raised the price of a Kalashnikov assault rifle from 150 to 250 dollars.

“It is a great opportunity to make a profit,” said arms dealer Kareem Mahmud. “The weapons market has gone down in the last three months. Now I think the election is the main factor in reviving the market.”

The open sale of weapons has been banned in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein. But they are sold covertly near popular markets in most of Baghdad’s neighbourhoods, and are sometimes smuggled home in sacks of vegetables.

Muhammed Abdullah, a 24 year-old student, is a newcomer to the arms trade, but a few weeks ago some friends asked him to buy them guns ahead of the upcoming poll.

“I get a good profit these days. Because of the election, there's a lot of people wanting to buy weapons,” he said. “Even some political parties send people to me to supply them with ammunition.”

Omar Muhammed, 35, said he'd come to the market to buy a gun for his cousin. His family intend to vote, and they're worried that insurgents will come to their home to exact retribution.

“We fear that someone will come to us and say, ‘Why did you vote?’” said Omar. “I want to protect my family.”

Grocer Ibrahim Abd said although his house has been robbed before, this is the first time he has visited the market to buy a gun.

“This time, the situation is different,” he explained. “I think it is now time to defend myself and others, should anybody attack us on election day or afterwards.”

Sad Salman, a 45-year-old school watchman, is currently employed as a poll worker. He already has a rifle and just came to the market to stock up on ammunition.

“I think the coming days will be dangerous, and it will be crucial for me to be well prepared against the terrorists,” he said.

Haider al-Moosawi is an IWPR trainee journalist in Iraq.