Baghdad’s Maridi market is one of the biggest illegal weapons markets in Iraq. Here civilians and soldiers buy everything from automatic rifles to rocket launchers to fake gun licenses.
In a market in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City, masked men display their wares on open tables the same way vegetable sellers do in other city markets. But instead of calling out the prices of the goods on show, the men whisper to passers-by so only those closest can hear.
Next to grenades on the tables are rockets, mortars and plenty of other weaponry, with markings that indicate they come from a number of different sources. The men behind the tables wear masks or glasses and hats to hide their faces. Welcome to Maridi market, one of Baghdad’s –if not, Iraq’s - most famous arms markets.
Markets like Maridi sprang up around Iraq after 2003, when former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein lost his iron grip on the country. There are many such markets around the country, most large cities have them and they are often protected and run by local tribes, which makes them impervious to official security forces. Maridi market is considered the “Iraqi stock exchange” of these unofficial gun markets.
There are a lot of ways in which one can obtain weapons, says Alaa Zamel, a trader in the market. The most significant route is across unguarded border crossings from turkey. The guns and other weapons enter Iraqi Kurdistan in northern Iraq and are then brought to Baghdad; checkpoints don’t seem to be a problem and if they are, some counterfeit ID cards or a bribe will often work.
“Most of the weapons come from military stores, especially those located near the front,” Zamel told NIQASH. “Soldiers who lose their weapons during fighting are not questioned as to why. If a soldier dies fighting, lost weapons are registered in their name. So a lot of the lost weapons are registered in dead soldiers’ names. And those weapons go to the arms dealers.”