Iraq Cracks Down on Online Gun Sales

By Mustafa Saadoun for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News. 

Iraq is upping its efforts to restrict the public's access to weapons, which will be a daunting task given the prevalence of weapons on the market and their wide exchange on social media.

When the country's top Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, demanded Dec. 15 that the government escalate operations to put all weapons under its control, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced a plan to do just that. At times in the past, sales were blatant and widespread; after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, weapons were sold on the streets in most Iraqi cities. That's no longer the case — but now dealers have the internet.

Facebook and other social media platforms have become hubs for the weapons trade. Although arms dealing is illegal in Iraq, dealers started using social media when the Islamic State invaded the country.

When Mohamed Akram wanted to buy a weapon, he searched Facebook. After about an hour, he was able to purchase a Kalashnikov rifle from a group that otherwise focuses on car sales. Although the name of the group has nothing to do with weapons, it actually promotes their sale along with shoes, personal-care items and miscellanea including hair tonic.

“Many people recommended that I search on Facebook and look for available weapons," Akram, who lives in the al-Hurriya neighborhood north of Baghdad, told Al-Monitor. "I didn't find any other way to buy weapons, [but] many people buy from these groups.”

Anyone can ask to join such groups, and once the group administrator approves a request, a new member can buy and sell weapons.

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