Analysis: Iraq, big illegal arms market

Analysis: Iraq, big illegal arms market

Recent tribal clashes in Iraqi Maysan province brought back focus on large amounts of illegal arms in the Iraq society. Armed clashes caused by tribal differences is a matter of long history in various Iraqi provinces, always killing and wounding people.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Recent tribal clashes in Iraqi Maysan province brought back focus on large amounts of illegal arms in the Iraq society. Armed clashes caused by tribal differences is a matter of long history in various Iraqi provinces, always killing and wounding people. This widespread phenomenon in past years has become a challenge to the Iraqi politicians, with government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi especially focusing on containing this crisis.

Big market of illegal arms

In looking at the illegal arms market in Iraq after 2003, several periods should be taken into consideration. First period starts after the US invasion of the country and toppling of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. In looking at this period, we should know that between 1980 and 1988, about 28 countries sent arms to Iraq in its war against neighboring Iran. Actually, 12 percent of the global arms were shipped to Iraq during the war.

Much of the weapons storage held by the Ba'athist regime was inherited by fugitive army personnel and even citizens after the 2003 military occupation of the country amid turmoil. Hundreds of weapons depots from the former Iraqi army and security forces were looted and found their way to the black market for cheap prices.

According to figures, the US military imported to Iraq 650,000 tons of ammunition after the occupation. Additionally, the newly-established Iraqi army was armed with an enormous amount of Western arms post-occupation. At the same time, due to the power vacuum in the society, sectarian conflicts increased dramatically and the demand for weapons increased significantly. Since then, the arms smuggling market came to existence. During this period, large quantities of pistols and AK-47 assaul rifles entered the black market.

The second period started after three-year ISIS control of several Iraqi provinces including Nineveh, Diyala, Salahuddin, Anbar, and parts of Kirkuk starting from 2014. ISIS control armed a large part of the Iraqi tribes directly or indirectly. Also, during anti-ISIS campaigns, a large part of arms left behind by the militias were seized by army personnel and sold in black markets. Even some semi-heavy weapons found their way to the black market.

Overall, all the field evidence suggests that, as a result of the developments since 2003, the arms trade in various Iraqi provinces, especially the southern provinces, has increased significantly and continues to grow and expand. This market even exists on social media platforms like Facebook. Much of the arms sold belong to ISIS, transfered to the south from recaptured areas in the north and west, where Mosul was a depot of arms. Around $35 million in arms are annually dealt in the Iraqi black market, figures suggest.

Illegal arms crisis aggrevated after ISIS emergence

As was said, after 2003 and 2014, arms flowed into the Iraqi society with a fast speed, causing a great crisis. Reports say that the battle against ISIS from 2014 to 2017 led to the injection of 600,000 weapons into Iraqi society, most of which were given to Iraqi tribes and clans.

Dhi Qar, Basra, Maysan, Al-Qadisiyyah, and Babil are the most important centers receiving these weapons. Many Iraqi tribes and citizens are now equipped with light and semi-heavy weapons and use them without hesitation in their tribal conflicts. The majority of this deployments are made through secret political intermediaries or groups. According to Al-Monitor news outlet, the total number of weapons illegally in the hands of Iraqi citizens is worth about $800,000, and most of the weapons are made in Russia, China and the US.

Government's comprehensive plan for illegal arms collection

Tribal clashes which have a big share in spread of insecurity across the country also gave the government a motivation to collect illegal arms held by the citizens. This plan is so significant that one of PM al-Kadhimi's campaigns has been arms collection. On May 2020, the parliament approved the illegal arms collection act.

Under the slogan of "restricting the arms to the government", the government launched its arms collection campaign on September 5, 2020, in Baghdad and Basra provinces as the two key illegal arms depots. These two provinces were picked because of the high rates of tribal clashes. Even the grand Shiite cleric Sayed Ali al-Sistani on September 14 the same year threw his backing behind al-Kadhimi campaign.

This continued through to 2021, with political and security leaders in northern Iraq launching a comprehensive arms collection program amid growing ribal clashes. Simultaneously, the central government-led arms control plan continues, but a considerable result is yet to be gained. This may invite for a newer program in the new conditions.


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