Iraq Still A Weapons Bazaar

IRAQ: U.S. Army Sgt. Patrick McDonald from Stratford, Conn., looks through the sights of an Austrian-made Steyr assault rifle, part of the private arms collection of Odai Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein, in Baghdad Friday, April 11, 2003. U.S troops from A Company 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment found a huge cache of collectable as well as military weapons. (AP Photo/John Moore)
Hussein fidgets in his chair and looks around as he answers questions about his arms business. After much coaxing and encouragement from friends, he softens and describes his trade as "booming."

"I get numerous individual requests for a pistol, a rifle or a grenade, and it's same day delivery," he says.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, weapons are everywhere in Iraq, left over from the disbanded army or looted from government storehouses. People are not only hoarding them, they're buying — and the market is ready to meet the demand.

"An order for tens of rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other similar weapons is usually delivered within 24 hours," says Hussein, 26, who packs a pistol hidden underneath his shirt "for personal protection. We have no security."

Hussein would not identify who is making the large orders, but confirmed that three political parties were his biggest customers.

Some say many are buying with the hope that coalition forces will offer cash payments in exchange for weapons — something Saddam did after crushing a 1991 uprising in southern Iraq.

Many people then turned in at least part of their arms cache. But this time around, coalition forces are offering little more than encouragement and Iraqis don't seem in a hurry to dispose of their weapons.

The U.S.-led occupation government is asking Iraqis to turn in their arms before a two-week amnesty ends Saturday and a promised crackdown begins next week.

Cooperation has been light, with military officials saying Friday that Iraqis dropped off 115 pistols, 75 semiautomatic rifles or shotguns, 406 automatic rifles, 45 machine guns, 152 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 11 anti-aircraft weapons and 266 grenades.

In Basra, military vehicles stop at major intersections to urge residents to turn in heavy weapons.

"Empty and dismantle the weapons and place them in clear plastic bags, which can be found at coalition troops control points," an announcement in Arabic blared through a loudspeaker placed on a military vehicle.

"We're taking all heavy weapons out of circulation, such as RPGs, (rocket-propelled grenades) grenades and howitzers," said Lt. Col. Duncan Bruce, Commanding Officer of 1 Battalion, Duke of Wellington's regiment, which controls much of rural southern Iraq.

The "weapons amnesty" runs from until June 15, but many say it is more of risk to hand over their arms than to keep them.

"We've always had weapons. Even under the brutal regime of Saddam, we had weapons. It's a tradition that goes back decades. I will not give up my weapons, especially not now, when the only security I have is my weapon," said Ali, who runs a cigarette kiosk in Basra.

To make his point, he opened a cabinet underneath the stand to reveal an AK-47.

"I work hard, and I will not stand helplessly and allow some thug to rob me," he said.

Coalition forces agree, and are allowing weapons for personal protection for now at least.

"We'll allow people to hold some personal protection in the house, but they can't travel around with it, Bruce said, adding that troops will remove weapons and arrest anyone caught intimidating people with them.

Fed up with crime, Iraqis say they also won't tolerate people abusing the situation and arms dealers like Hussein say they have their limits.

"I don't sell to children, angry people, or those I know who have a running feud or a vendetta," he said.