Mon, May 26, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US to take weapons from unauthorized Iraqis


The US-led coalition officially ordered Iraqis on Saturday to disarm by mid-June, part of a high-profile effort to get weapons off the streets and return public security to cities under American occupation.

Anyone found with unauthorized weapons after June 14 will be detained and face criminal charges, US Central Command in Florida said, quoting a "national order" from the top civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.

"No one in Iraq, unless authorized, may possess, conceal, hide or bury these weapons," the United States said. "No one can trade, sell, barter, give or exchange automatic or heavy weapons with or to any person who is not an authorized representative of coalition forces."

During a 14-day amnesty period that begins June 1, Iraqis will be permitted to turn in unauthorized weapons at "weapons-control points" throughout the country.

The official announcement from Centcom came a day after Lieutenant General David McKiernan, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, said citizens would be instructed to disarm.

"The intent is not to completely disarm the Iraqi population of all weapons. That is neither practical nor necessary," McKiernan said Friday.

Coalition forces have been struggling to maintain order in postwar Iraq, and have identified an armed citizenry as one of the biggest obstacles.

Under Bremer's order, Iraqis must place unloaded, disassembled weapons into a clear plastic bag provided by Coalition forces and walk slowly to the collection point.

Collection points will be at police stations and other designated locations and will be jointly staffed by Iraqi and coalition forces. Weapons may only be turned in during the day, and guns turned in will either be destroyed or used by the new Iraqi army and police.

Small arms -- including small automatic rifles semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols -- are allowed in homes and businesses. Public use is prohibited.

One group that may stay armed, at least on some level, is the peshmerga, a Kurdish fighting force that helped the United States during the war.

"The peshmerga are a little different story," McKiernan said. "The peshmerga fought with the coalition forces during this [war], and we are looking at leaving them with some of their weapons."

They would be permitted to keep their weapons only in certain northern regions, McKiernan said.

"We have not decided exactly which weapons they will continue to possess," he said. "But they will be allowed to keep some weapons."

Meanwhile, an ORHA spokesman said Saturday that the electricity situation in Baghdad is gradually improving, and power shortages had mostly been eliminated in other parts of the country. Electricity is considered a crucial path to better security in postwar Iraq.

Military officials said increases in patrols by both coalition forces and Iraqi police had contributed to a decrease in crime and lawlessness.

Major Scott Slaten, a spokesman for the newly arrived 1st Armored Division, which is gradually taking over responsibility for security in Baghdad, said there would be a sharp increase in patrols in coming days.

Only coalition forces, police officers and other uniformed officials under coalition authority are allowed to possess most automatic or heavy weaponry.

Owning a firearm is a matter of pride and a sign of manhood to many Iraqi men, especially in rural areas where tribalism and traditional values endure.

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