After decades of conflict, including the downfall of Saddam Hussein following the massive 2003 US-led invasion, all of Iraq has been flooded with weapons, and the autonomous Kurdistan Region is no exception. Photo: Rudaw
SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – Security officials and lawmakers in the Kurdistan Region remain divided over solving the autonomous enclave’s gun problem, differing over whether to collect weapons illegally owned by people or impose licensing regulations and tight ownership laws.
After decades of conflict, including the downfall of Saddam Hussein following the massive 2003 US-led invasion, all of Iraq has been flooded with weapons, and the autonomous Kurdistan Region is no exception. There is no official data to show the number of weapons owned by civilians, but it is high enough to concern security officials.
“It is time for the region’s parliament to openly address this issue and come up with a resolution,” a security official said. But a Kurdish MP retorted that any attempt to limit the number of guns would fail without strengthening border security, in a region surrounded by the rest of volatile Iraq, war-torn Syria, Iran and Turkey.
Sarkawt Ahmad, police spokesperson in the city of Sulaimani, said that his department had drawn up a plan to tackle gun control, but charged that parliament had not been willing to seriously discuss the problem.
“The key point of the plan is to have the government repurchase all the weapons currently owned by people,” he said, adding that violators would be charged and their weapons confiscated.
“I am afraid implementing such a plan leads to the emergence of gun smugglers,” claimed Nariman Abdulla, member of the interior committee in the Kurdistan parliament. “The borders of the Kurdistan Region can be penetrated easily, and more guns can be brought into the region by new smugglers,” he added.
“The plan wastes government funds, because people will use the money to repurchase guns,” he charged. “The best solution at this point is to lawfully reorganize weapons owned by people.”
Meanwhile, security officials complain that they have to deal with the consequences of lax gun control, with Ahmad explaining that guns kill dozens of people each year in so-called “honor killings,” family disagreements, tribal disputes and property ownership rows.
“Most of the social crimes are due to having easy access to weapons,” Ahmad said, with security officials adding they are surprised by how slight disagreements end up in capital crimes.
Sulaimani has recently witnessed a series of crimes where several people were killed and injured. In addition, “a teenager shot and killed his entire family over nothing in Chamchamal town, and another five people were killed over tribal disputes in Erbil last year,” Ahmad said.
Lieutenant Nizar Abdulla, head of the interior department in Sulaimani’s governor’s office, said that licensing for weapons must be toughened. “Anybody can get a permission to bear arms,” he complained.
Abdulla said that his department formed a committee to deal with the issue three months ago. “We sent our proposal to the interior ministry, but got no response from them,” he complained.
Abdulla warned that weapons have already been smuggled into Kurdistan. “We have information that arms had been smuggled into Kurdistan region from Libya last April,” he said.
“Any 18-year-old can obtain a license to carry weapons. The law should raise the age, so that a person has to be at least 40 to be able to carry weapons,” Abdulla advised.