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In Iraq, stray bullets mutilate bodies every day

Randa Ahmed was going about her business was doing his household chores when a sudden detonation startled him. In his living room &agrav; Baghdad, she found her four-year-old son bleeding, injured; by a stray bullet, victim like other Iraqis of the proliferation of weapons.

Any occasion is conducive to shooting in Iraq, ravaged by decades of conflict: wedding celebrations, victory of a football team, but also neighborhood disputes, rivalries between tribes or settling of scores between armed factions, linked to the political scene.

“The bullet came from nowhere,” recalls Mrs. Ahmed, unable to understand how her son Mohamed was injured. “He was hit in the head,” she told AFP, in her house in the suburbs of Baghdad.

Due to the difficulty of the operation, the doctors recommended against surgical intervention to remove the bullet.

“Her condition is serious”, continues the 30-year-old mother. “He must remain under supervision: if the ball moves, paralysis is assured.”

Today, Iraq has regained a semblance of stability, but the country is emerging from nearly half a century of violence.

In Iraq, stray bullets mutilate bodies every day

Mohamed's father shows an X-ray of his son who was injured by a stray bullet in his home in the suburbs of Baghdad, May 20, 2024 © AFP – AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

There were the regional wars led by the former dictator Saddam Hussein, then the American invasion of 2003 which overthrew his regime and opened the way to one of the bloodiest pages in the history of the country, bruised by a sectarian conflict and the rise in power of jihadist groups.

In this Iraq of 43 million inhabitants, weapons, light and heavy, flood the provinces. In 2017, the specialized NGO Small Arms Survey recorded 7.6 million small arms in circulation — handguns or long weapons.

“Today, this figure must be significantly higher,” said Aaron Karp, expert at the Small Arms Survey. “At first glance we are talking about an annual (increase) ranging from 3% to 5%.”

– “Fall from the sky” –

Saad Abbas was enjoying the coolness of his garden in Baghdad when suddenly a shooting pain tore his shoulder. Watching the blood flow, he realizes that a stray bullet has just hit him.

In Iraq, stray bullets mutilate bodies every day

Saad Abbas, injured by a stray bullet in his house in the suburbs of Baghdad, May 20, 2024 © AFP – AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

“The ball fell from the sky”, summarizes the 59-year-old man.

Since then, he has most often remained bedridden, the projectile lodged in his flesh. The doctors recommended against an operation, due to an already fragile state of health.

“I can't lift my arm. It hurts. I can't even not remove the cover from the bed”, breathes Mr. Abbas.

There are shots “when a football team wins, during a wedding, an engagement. Where do the bullets go? They fall on people”, the fifty-year-old rages.

“Weapons should be exclusively in the hands of the State”.

Illegal possession of firearms is theoretically punishable by up to one year in prison. But the authorities must increase their efforts to defeat the scourge, and have announced new regulations in 2023.

“Our main concern is not small arms, but intermediate and heavy weapons”, indicates to AFP the spokesperson for the Ministry of the Interior, General Moqdad Miri.

In Iraq, stray bullets mutilate bodies every day

An Iraqi police officer registers a citizen's weapon at his home in a Baghdad neighborhood, May 13, 2024. © AFP – AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

A recently adopted program allows individuals to turn over certain weapons to the State – machine guns for example – in exchange for compensation of up to $4,000.

Each household is nevertheless authorized to keep a single revolver for “protection”, and 697 specialized centers have been designated to allow civilians to register this document.

In a country dominated by a strong tribal culture, “many people consider that weapons are part of their identity”, recognizes General Miri.

He also notes the ” large quantity” of weapons that were abandoned by the Iraqi army at the time of the American invasion, as well as those that the jihadists brought in between 2014 and 2018.

– “Political armed groups” –

Recognizing that individuals are “attached to their arsenal”, security expert Ahmed el-Charifi believes that “the most dangerous” are the weapons “in the hands of tribes and political armed groups”.

Videos on social networks regularly show rocket or heavy machine gun fire exchanged by rival factions, in Basra, the southern metropolis, or elsewhere.

In Iraq, stray bullets mutilate bodies every day

An Iraqi police officer registers a citizen's weapon at his home in a Baghdad neighborhood, May 13, 2024. © AFP – AHMAD AL-RUBAYE

And regularly, a murderous drama recalls this proliferation of weapons.

In April, a groom was killed in gunfire during his wedding in Mosul, in the north.

Earlier, clashes between relatives left one dead in a crowded market in Baghdad.

In April 2023, in Baghdad, Ahmed Hussein had just laid down for his nap when a sudden pain woke him up. “I fell out of bed, my foot was bleeding,” the thirty-year-old explained to AFP.

That day, we were celebrating a wedding near his home.

All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116