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Private Buyers Snapping Up US Weapons in Kurdistan

Kurdish men inspect an American M16 rifle in the Erbil gun market. Photo: AFP
Kurdish men inspect an American M16 rifle in the Erbil gun market. Photo: AFP

SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region — Arms dealers in the Kurdistan Region say demand for American arms is on the rise after US-made weapons from Mosul trickled into the Kurdish market and Washington decided to deliver weapons to Kurds.

The influx of US weapons to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has hurt the private market as demand for Russian weapons has fallen, arms traders say. Russian-made arms dominate the Kurdistan Region’s arms trade.

Weapons markets saw a brief spike in business as Peshmerga soldiers, volunteer fighters and civilians bought their own weapons for personal safety and in preparation for battle against Islamic militants. Sales have sunk since the Americans began air strikes on Islamic militants and the US other nations promised to send weaponry, however.

Some American weapons — including those left behind by the Iraqi army when it fled Mosul in June — have found their way into the Kurdish market, arms dealers say. Islamic State (IS/formerly ISIS) and Sunni insurgents seized most of the armory.

The highest demand is for M16 assault rifles, which are selling for $2,800 to $3,500.

“Ordinary people and Peshmerga fighters are asking for American weapons,” said Sarward Ahmed, an arms dealer in Sulaimani. “The buyers are mostly civilians. Most people who are doing well financially have bought American weapons.”

Mohammad Hassan, a reservist Peshmerga fighter, is awaiting orders to go to battle. He owns a Kalashnikov but has decided to buy a new weapon.

“Most of my friends have American weapons. I wanted to buy it too in order to use it against the enemy,” Hassan said.

Weapons aren’t difficult to come by in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has had a flourishing private market thanks to Iraq’s successive wars since the 1980s when Saddam Hussein’s regime armed most of the country during the Iran-Iraq war. There are weapons bazaars in most cities and towns including Erbil, Sulaimani and Chamchamal.  

Besides the United States, which is providing arms and air support, France and the UK are sending ammunition and equipment to the KRG. The European Union and Germany are also considering arming the Kurds, who are fighting extremist militias and tribes that have claimed large areas of Nineveh province.

Soran Ali, another arms dealer in Sulaimani, said the US supply hasn’t hurt business but that “Demand for Kalashnikovs is very low. There’s more demand for American than Russian weapons — basically, American weapons have replaced the Russian weapons.”

“Demand for pistols is decreasing as well; because of the war people aren’t buying them,” Ali added.

Ali argued that the arrival of US weapons in Kurdistan would boost the arms market by making accessories and bullets more widely available. During the US occupation of Iraq, high grade American ammunition was selling for as little as $1 a bullet in Sulaimani.

Ali predicted that trade of US-made weapons in Iraqi Kurdistan would only increase.

“When people buy weapons they think about selling them as well,” he said. 


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disappointed | 21/8/2014
And then they'll sell them to arabs Turks and Iran...Kurds only care for momentary money and happiness. Smh.
Muraz Adzhoev | 21/8/2014
As soon as Sothern Kurdistan becomes a free and independent sovereign state, its government will be the only legitimate buyer of all these weapons that are in private hands and on the "black-grey" local market. The people will be able to get back their money being spent today for security and military reasons. That is not commercial business at all, but the fair deal. The Victory is near, "open" Sothern Kurdistan to let it come in and stay for ever in peace!
Argushi (USA) | 21/8/2014
We need to make sure this weapons do not get in hands of bad people who wants to harm KURDS. We should do a good background check before we sell one of this weapons. We should consider the safety of our family and friends and not worry about making some money. Thanks
Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland | 21/8/2014
It is VERY wise for people to make sure every home has private weapons. Indeed I would feel much safer if I lived in Kurdistan if I was confident *all* my Kurdish neighbours had the foresight to stock up small arms and ammunition. Indeed given the security realities right now, everyone old enough (say 14 or older, male or female) should know how to safely shoot, clean and respect a rifle. But OMG, 5.56mm ammo is $1 per round??? That is outrageously expensive! Sounds to me like a good market opportunity for some enterprising businessman to undercut that hugely!
Friend of Kurdistan | 21/8/2014
If an M16 is superior to a Kalashnikov at a firing range, it definitely is not in real combat conditions. Look at facts: the Kalashinkov needs far less maintenance and is much more robust. Unlike the more accurate american arms, it will not stop shooting because of dirt or lower standard ammunition. This is essential when you cannot bring your firearm to a gunsmith on a regular basis or you have to rely on ammution of unknown origin. A new M16 beats a new Kala in a competition, but the Kala beats the M16 after a week in the field without lots of care and maintenance. And this is not a competition, this is real war.

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