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.