Soldiers face dangerous situations at weapons turn-in stations in Iraq
Stars and Stripes June 3, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The next two weeks could prove perilous for U.S. troops as the military collects high-caliber weapons and munitions from Iraqis.
The danger is not in the actual collection, but having troops discern between those turning in weapons and those who might try to take advantage of the program by carrying arms in the open with the intent to harm U.S. servicemembers, said Army Sgt. Nathan Chism.
Chism is the U.S. military team leader at the Al-Bayaa police station in downtown Baghdad, one of several collection points set up throughout the city.
“It’s real dangerous. At any time, anything can happen if they’re walking up to you with a weapon,” said Chism, with the 18th Military Police Brigade out of Mannheim, Germany.
Soldiers received extra training to discriminate between people posing an imminent threat and those turning in weapons.
The amnesty turn-in started Sunday and runs through June 14.
Iraqis have been instructed to dismantle their weapons and bring them to collection sites in clear plastic bags. The instructions have been broadcast on the radio, printed in newspapers and posted at collection points.
On the first day of collections in Baghdad, people turned in nine AK-47 rifles, 50 heavy machine gun rounds, 35 rocket-propelled grenade launchers and a variety of small arms ammunition, according to a news release from Coalition Joint Task Force 7.
But random checkpoints, military raids and patrols have not subsided in light of the voluntary turn-in program, said Army Maj. Scott Slaten, chief spokesman for the Army’s 1st Armored Division, headquartered in Wiesbaden, Germany, and who is leading security missions throughout Baghdad.
In the last 24 hours of raids and patrols, for example, soldiers from the Army’s V Corps, based out of Heidelberg, Germany, seized 12 AK-47 rifles, five light machine guns, 17 rocket-grenade launchers, 11 pistols and 14 grenades, according to a release.
Baghdad still is an unsafe city. Residents are reluctant to turn in their weapons because some either fear the military and local police officers, or don’t trust they will be adequately protected.
“I have four daughters and a home. If I give my weapon, how will I protect myself and them when looters come to my house?” Ali Awad, 60, asked through a translator. “The people do not feel safe.”
He later said he does not have a weapon, but was speaking of the general mentality of the residents of Baghdad.
It’s not the law-abiding residents local police are after, said Sadi Hussain, a Baghdad police officer for 31 years.
“We know of people who have arms, and we are coordinating with Americans to collect the weapons, even if it is dangerous for us and for them,” Hussain said through an interpreter. “But the people will not turn in their arms. They are afraid of their enemies and will not surrender.”
On Monday, Nabil Sabeh visited the Al-Bayaa police station to retrieve a pistol local police confiscated the night before when he tried to defend himself against burglars. He could not produce documentation at the time, and so the gun was taken, Chism said.
But he showed up with paperwork in hand, and Chism thanked him for his patience and returned the weapon.
“This is a very good system,” said the happy 33-year-old Sabeh. “This is my personal pistol I use to defend myself. And the Americans understand my case better than the Iraqi officers.”
Though U.S. military officials aren’t anticipating a huge turn-in, they do want to give locals the opportunity to voluntarily clean the streets of illegal weapons, Slaten said.
“We’re not fooling ourselves into thinking the bad guys are going to turn in their weapons,” he said. “But they do deserve a chance.”
The U.S. military is not outlawing weapons all together.
“That would be like trying to disarm Texas. It isn’t going to happen,” Slaten said.
Handguns are permitted, so long as residents keep them in their homes, he said. “It’s not an issue until they walk down the street with it.”
It’s the bigger weapons they’re after.
“A housewife does not need an anti-aircraft armor. She doesn’t need a rocket-propelled grenade launcher ... or a .50-caliber weapon with a silencer,” he said.
Troops are taking advantage of the two-week amnesty to repair existing prisons and jails to meet international humanitarian standards, and to establish a judicial system to begin trying cases.
After the amnesty expires June 14, “the gloves are coming off,” Slaten said.