Flash flood of guns left Iraqis armed and dangerous

Monday, September 13, 2004

LONDON The Small Arms Survey said millions of firearms pillaged from the military and security forces of the Saddam Hussein regime have flooded Iraq over the last year.

The survey said the collapse of the Saddam regime precipitated one of the largest and fastest transfers of light weapons ever recorded.

The survey said at least one in every three Iraqis possesses a firearm. In all, about eight million firearms are in the hands of Iraqis, with the actual number believed to be considerably higher, Middle East Newsline reported.

Another threat raised by the survey comes from what the institute termed the proliferation of man-portable surface-to-air missile launchers.

Insurgency groups have used such weapons in efforts to knock out airliners, such as the firing of an SA-7 missile toward an Israeli passenger jet over Mombasa, Kenya in December 2002.

"Iraq now poses a regional proliferation risk," Keith Krause, the survey's program director said. "That's going to be with us for years to come," Krause said. "The consequences of the great Iraqi small arms abandonment may endanger stability in much of the Middle East for years to come," the survey said.

The annual survey, coordinated at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva and financed by Western governments, said the pool of such weapons could fuel instability throughout the Middle East.

The survey cited the dramatic rise of shooting deaths in Baghdad in 2003.

Finland, however, has the highest ratio of firearms per person.

"We do not know what proportion of these weapons are military style."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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