Iraq arrests 13 in Baghdad and Basra over illegal weapons

For years the government has faced a major challenge to rein in armed militias and keep weapons under state control

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi gestures during a meeting with security leaders, in Basra, Iraq August 22, 2020. Picture taken August 22, 2020. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY
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Iraqi security forces arrested 13 people late on Saturday who were suspected of carrying illegal arms in operations in Baghdad and Basra.

For years, the government has faced a major challenge to rein in armed militias and keep weapons under state control.

“Ten individuals were arrested in Basra, who were suspected of carrying heavy weaponry, after a security operation was launched to raid and inspect various areas in the city,” armed forces spokesman Yehia Rasool said on Twitter.

Security forces raided the eastern Baghdad area of Hussainia Al Mamal at 4am, seizing dozens of light and medium weapons, he said.

Three men were arrested in the Iraqi capital and were charged with possession of “medium weapons and illegal vehicles”.

“The government and security forces will deal with those who attempt to threaten the security of citizens and we will not tolerate this,” Mr Rasool said.

After the US-led invasion that ousted former dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, the illegal weapons trade flourished across the country. Looted guns from ransacked police stations and military bases were sold in the streets and public areas to residents seeking to protect themselves in the largely lawless state.

Since then, the government has tried to curb the sale of illegal weapons and stepped up its efforts to control gun ownership through regulation.

The law stipulates that civilians may carry light arms only with official government authorisation and an identity card that lists the type of weapon registered to their name.

Public protests in Basra and Baghdad have turned violent in recent months.

Demonstrators are calling for better services, an end to endemic corruption, more jobs and changes to the political system.

The mass movement started in October 2019 with a few people in Baghdad, then spread to other cities in central and southern Iraq.

More than 600 people were killed and thousands injured when security forces opened fire on the protesters.

International human rights organisations say the dozens of activists have reported intimidation and there have been many kidnappings and assassinations.

Last month in Basra, activists Reham Yacoub and Tahseen Osama were gunned down in separate incidents within a week, sparking public rage at the government’s inability to protect citizens.

The government immediately launched a military operation to track militias blamed for the murder of the activists in the city.

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron met Iraqi leaders on his first visit to Baghdad, stressing the war-scarred country must assert its "sovereignty" despite being caught up in US-Iran tensions.

Fresh from a two-day trip to crisis-hit Lebanon, Mr Macron was the most prominent world leader to visit Iraq since Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi came to power in May.

He spent just a few hours in the Iraqi capital, where he held talks Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih, Mr Al Kadhimi, and an array of political figures to insist Iraq strike a path independent of regional tensions.

"Iraq has been going through a challenging time for several years, with war and terrorism," Mr Macron said.

He noted that the country was still struggling to revive its economy, improve its education system and bring "military elements and militias" under state control.