A new U.S. policy aimed at drastically reducing the number of weapons in Iraq will allow people to keep guns for self-defense at home but outlaw them almost everywhere else, the commander of American ground forces in Iraq said Friday.
Lt. Gen. David McKiernan said permits will be granted for keeping guns at home. There will be limits on the type of weapon allowed, he said.
“The intent is not to completely disarm the Iraqi population of all weapons. That is neither practical nor necessary,” McKiernan said at a news briefing.
Disarming the population, even partially, would help fight crime in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.
Thousands of Iraqis purchased firearms in the period leading up to the U.S.-led war. Guns stored in military armories and looted after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s government also found their way into the country’s lucrative weapons market.
The new U.S. policy will outlaw celebratory fire, customary in Iraq during such occasions as weddings and birth celebrations. There will also be restrictions on firearms carried by bodyguards.
“This country, over the last 30 years ... has become one large ammo and weapons cache,” McKiernan said.
The policy is expected to take effect next month and would give Iraqis 14 days to give up their guns. McKiernan said penalties for offenders hadn’t been decided, and no details were given on how the weapons would be collected.
Restricting gun ownership is likely to be extremely unpopular in Iraq, where owning a firearm is a matter of pride and a sign of manhood to many men, especially in rural areas where tribalism and traditional values endure.