Iraq Pulse

Iraqi Kurdistan takes aim at gun control

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Article Summary
The Iraqi Kurdistan Region has given gun owners six months to register their small firearms and give up heavy weapons.

In a bid to control armed violence and high crime rates, the Kurdistan Regional Government has given gun owners six months to register their arms and give up their heavy weapons. KRG Interior Minister Karim Sinjari issued the Feb. 10 decree to restrict the possession of such weapons to the armed forces.

People must register all pistols and rifles at security centers. After the deadline, anyone with unregistered or illegal weapons will be prosecuted. 

“We are now making preparations for implementing the decree. We printed forms for registering weapons, and this week we will announce the opening of security centers where people can register their weapons or hand over their heavy arms,” Sami Jalal, the Interior Ministry’s chief of staff, told Al-Monitor.

The KRG official said, “The KRG has also always confiscated unlicensed guns. We recently eliminated 13,500 guns confiscated over the last two years. We granted 14,500 licenses to possess weapons and none of those guns were used in crimes,” Jalal said.

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The Kurdistan Region is a tribal society where a culture of intolerance, revenge and honor killings prevails. Weapons are often used to settle personal or tribal disputes.

In every corner of the region, there are big stores where all kinds of weapons can be purchased and sold. Al-Monitor visited the weapons black market in Sulaimaniyah, where all kinds of US and German-made assault rifles are available. The dealers said the price of an M4 is $2,300 and a G36 is $5,600. The KRG plans to regulate these stores as well. On Facebook, which is widely used in the region, one can find dozens of pages advertising weapons, especially cheap Turkish pistols. 

During the fight against Islamic State militants, several reports revealed that weapons delivered by the German Defense Ministry to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces were being sold on the black market. Germany temporary halted delivery of weapons to the region in 2016. After the issue was investigated and many Peshmerga commanders were arrested, the shipments resumed.

The KRG official admitted that such things do happen in the weapons black market. However, the state forces overlooked them as they needed the smuggled weapons to arm the Peshmerga, police and local security forces.

“Since 1991, we are not a sovereign state to import armaments, so we were obliged to seek the help of weapons smugglers to buy weapons and defend ourselves against the Iraqi Baath regime. After the collapse of Baath in 2003, when al-Qaeda emerged and eventually IS occupied a third of Iraq’s territory in 2004, the Iraqi federal government did not deliver one bullet to us to defend ourselves,” said Jalal.

He made it clear that according to the recent KRG decision, the black markets would be closed or regulated after the laws are amended by the Kurdistan Parliament. He also said another possible solution is enforcing a 2017 law on gun ownership that allows citizens to buy and carry handguns, semiautomatic rifles and other assault weapons once they receive authorization.

The Iraqi Kurdistan Region gained autonomy after ousting the former Saddam Hussein regime in a public uprising following the Gulf war in 1991. After looting the weapons and ammunition catches of the former regime, the local community is heavily armed. In 1993, the KRG passed a law to regulate weapons ownership, but the code has been unable to decrease armed violence.

A 10-year-old child was killed while handling a rifle in a rural town of Erbil March 1. Two people were killed and three injured in a gun battle over pigeons in the capital Erbil in January. In October, three Kurdish citizens were killed in the province of Sulaimani by celebratory gunfire after Barham Salih was elected as Iraq's new president.

According to a survey by the Independent Commission for Human Rights in Iraqi Kurdistan, murder or suicide claimed the lives of 377 people between June 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, including suicides — more than one death per day, mostly by firearms.

A Kurdish political and security analyst who preferred not to be named told Al-Monitor, “I don’t think it’s to do with anything political. It’s a step that’s been needed for a long time.”

After fighting IS militants for four years, the Kurdistan Region hopes that limiting weapons to government forces will bring stability and security, key factors for bringing foreign investments to the severely indebted region.

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Found in: arms, tribalism, violence, iraqi kurdistan region, heavy weapons, weapons smuggling, weapons

Dana Taib Menmy is a Kurdish journalist from Sulaimaniyah who has been published by several Kurdish media outlets since 2006.

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