Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Prices Increase for Black Market Small Arms in Iraq

Sunday's New York Times had an interesting article on the surge in prices in Iraq for small armaments, such as the AK-47 assualt rifle and the 9 millimeter Glock 19 pistol:

The Kurdish security contractor placed the black plastic box on the table. Inside was a new Glock 19, one of the 9-millimeter pistols that the United States issued by the tens of thousands to the Iraqi Army and police.

This pistol was no longer in the custody of the Iraqi Army or police. It had been stolen or sold, and it found its way to an open-air grocery stand that does a lively black-market business in police and infantry arms. The contractor bought it there.

He displayed other purchases, including a short-barreled Kalashnikov assault rifle with a collapsible stock that makes it easy to conceal under a coat or fire from a car. “I bought this for $450 last year,” he said of the rifle. “Now it costs $650. The prices keep going up.”

The market for this American-issued pistol and the ubiquitous assault rifle illustrated how fear, mismanagement and malfeasance are shaping the small-arms market in Iraq.

Weapon prices are soaring along with an expanding sectarian war, as more buyers push prices several times higher than those that existed at the time of the American-led invasion nearly four years ago. Rising prices, in turn, have encouraged an insidious form of Iraqi corruption — the migration of army and police weapons from Iraqi state armories to black-market sales.
All manner of infantry arms, from rocket-propelled grenade launchers to weathered and dented Kalashnikovs, have circulated within Iraq for decades.

But three types of American-issued weapons are now readily visible in shops and bazaars here as well: Glock and Walther 9-millimeter pistols, and pristine, unused Kalashnikovs from post-Soviet Eastern European countries. These are three of the principal types of the 370,000 weapons purchased by the United States for Iraq’s security forces, a program that was criticized by a special inspector general this fall for, among other things, failing to properly account for the arms.

The weapons are easy to find, resting among others in the semihidden street markets here, where weapons are sold in tea houses, the back rooms of grocery kiosks, cosmetics stores and rug shops, or from the trunks of cars. Proprietors show samples for immediate purchase and offer to take orders — 10 guns can be had in two hours, they say, and 100 or more the next day....

The forces propelling the trade can be seen in the price fluctuations of the country’s most abundant firearm, the Kalashnikov.

In early 2003, a Kalashnikov in northern Iraq typically cost from $75 to $150, depending on its condition, origin and style. Immediately after the invasion, as fleeing soldiers abandoned their rifles and armories were looted, prices fell, pushed down by a glut and a brief sense of optimism.

Today, the same weapons typically cost $210 to $650, according to interviews with seven arms dealers, two senior Kurdish security officials and several customers. In other areas of Iraq, prices have climbed as high as $800, according to Phillip Killicoat, a researcher who has been assembling data on Kalashnikov prices worldwide for the Small Arms Survey, a Geneva-based organization.

The price ranges reflect not only a weapon’s condition but its model. A Kalashnikov made in a former Soviet-bloc factory costs more than a Kalashnikov made in China, North Korea or Iraq. Collapsible-stock models have become disproportionately expensive. The price ranges do not include the most compact Kalashnikovs, like those Osama bin Laden has been photographed with, which now have a collector’s value in Iraq and can cost as much as $2,000.
Read the whole article, which mentions that official corruption in arms sales has been a longstanding tradition in Iraq and other Third World countries.

I blogged earlier about
the impact of the AK-47 on world politics. The Kalashnikov may be Russia's greatest innovation, and has been the weapon of choice for anti-government forces the world over. Unfortunately, the proliferating arms bazaar feeds an already incredibly dangerous situation for U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq. There's been much discussion and critcism on Iraq regarding post-invasion planning. Certainly questionable is the inventory and accounting system for the huge numbers of small weapons distributed to Iraqi security forces. Yet, Iraq's gun trade culture would have made any effort to arm indigenous forces fraught with danger.

No comments: