Imogen Foulkes / BBC – 2004-07-06 10:21:38
GENEVA (June 30, 2004) — The Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva says the mass of weapons in private hands threatens stability in Iraq and the Middle East.
Iraq changed almost overnight from a state with a well-equipped army to a country with no troops and seven or eight million abandoned weapons. They range from pistols to machine-guns to portable anti-tank rockets.
The authors of the small arms survey say the massive shift of weapons has been disastrous for the restoration of order in Iraq.
Small Arms Survey
The firearms are being used by insurgents to attack coalition forces. They are also being used to commit other crimes. Murders and other serious offences involving guns have rocketed in Iraq.
In addition, the researchers say Iraq’s geographic position means the weapons can easily be transferred out of the country, creating a threat to stability in the entire Middle East for years to come. And the survey says attempts by coalition forces to disarm Iraqi civilians have been too little and too late.
The small arms survey is part of a United Nations programme to combat trafficking in weapons.
The study, while sounding the alarm over the situation in Iraq, also revealed that there were 200,000 non war-related gun deaths last year worldwide. Half of them occurred in Latin America and the Caribbean. The country worst affected was Colombia.
‘Saddam’s Small Arms Could Destabilise Mideast for Years’
Associated Press / Jordan Times
GENEVA (AP) — The huge numbers of small arms left behind by Iraq’s armed forces after the fall of Saddam Hussein could cause instability in the Middle East for many years, according to a study published Wednesday.
“Millions of firearms suddenly flooded a chaotic social landscape,” the 335-page Small Arms Survey said. “The collapse precipitated what almost certainly was one of the largest and fastest transfers of small arms ever.”
The number of murders involving firearms in Baghdad rose dramatically, the report said, and the violence “became a major barrier to the restoration of legitimate authority.” “The consequences of the great Iraqi small arms abandonment may endanger stability in much of the Middle East for years to come,” it added.
The Iraqi people currently possess an estimated 7 million to 8 million firearms, although the actual number could be much higher, the study said, adding that it still has fewer firearms per person than countries such as Finland.
“The concern here … is we do not know what proportion of these weapons are military style,” Keith Krause, the programme director for the survey, told reporters. “Iraq now poses a regional proliferation risk.”
The survey of global small arms is produced annually by a team of researchers coordinated at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva and financed by a dozen Western governments. It is used partly to track progress on a UN programme to combat small-arms trafficking that was adopted at a 2001 conference on the illegal trade in light weaponry.
At least 200,000 non-war-related firearms deaths occur each year — the vast majority of them homicides. Almost half the killings are in Latin America and the Caribbean, which have gradually developed even more severe firearm problems than Iraq.
Latin America does not have a particularly high number of small arms, but far more people are killed per gun than in other regions of the world.
Colombia has the world’s highest gun homicide rate, with 50 murders per 100,000 people, followed by South Africa with 30. By comparison, the United States has 3.5 killings per 100,000 people, and Germany has 0.2.
Countries following Colombia in the Latin America and Caribbean region were Venezuela with 21 and Jamaica with 17.
“Latin America stands out as the only part of the world where so many such countries are packed together in a single region,” the report said. But “several other regions are home to one or more countries affected by exceptional gun problems, such as South Africa and Albania.”
Many of the problems are caused by governments failing to provide security, as people then use weapons to protect themselves and their property, said Krause. “The international community should pay greater attention to the duty of states to treat security as a public good.”
In the United States, the war on terror has caused tighter restrictions on gun ownership but has also led to permission for US airline pilots to carry guns and the greater use of armed sky marshals.
The intensity of the US firearms debate is expected to increase in 2004, as some US states try to restrict ownership rights while others pass more permissive legislation. The study said production of commercial firearms is falling in two of the world’s three major producers — the United States and Russia. However, production of military small arms is increasing because of both domestic demand and export sales. There was little detailed information on small arms production in China, the world’s other major producer.
The survey also said more international initiatives were needed to stop the proliferation of portable surface-to-air missile launchers, known as MANPADs.
The spread of these weapons — which came to the world’s attention after the dramatic attack on a civilian airliner flying out of Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002 — has until now been limited by the small number of manufacturers and the extensive training required to use the weapons. But that is changing, the study said.
“The current bout of media attention may have exaggerated the threat of MANPADs, but it has done much to raise international awareness of a threat with the potential to become more acute,” it said.
Governments need to increase stockpile security to prevent proliferation of MANPADs, but it is a problem “that’s going to be with us for years to come,” Krause said.