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US Military Launches Effort to Collect Iraqi Weapons - 2003-08-21

With deadly attacks on coalition forces in Iraq occurring almost daily, the U.S. military is eager to get weapons off the streets, and even pays rewards for heavy weapons and useful information about hidden weapon caches.

Selling or even carrying weapons on the streets of Baghdad can mean jail time for anyone caught by U.S. troops. The U.S. military wants to get weapons out of the hands if Iraqi civilians and is offering to pay for information that would lead to weapons seizure and even for some of the deadliest arms themselves.

Gun shop owner Sahab Hamden is willing to help. He says he can collect the weapons and then turn them over to the U.S. military. Surface-to-air missiles capable of downing airplanes flying into the former Saddam International Airport, are worth $500 to the coalition forces.

"Some people came here and asked me to buy RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades.] If the U.S. Army allows me to collect them, I can buy them and turn them in," he said.

But he says many former Iraqi Army soldiers and others want to turn in weapons, but they are afraid they might be shot by U.S. soldiers mistaking them for terrorists.

Sgt. Brent Williams, a spokesman for 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, the U.S. military contingent in charge of the neighborhood, says along with surface-to-air missiles, his brigade will pay a reward for information leading to the seizure of heavy weapons, from RPGs to machine guns and mortar rounds.

"If somebody has knowledge of an extensive weapons cache, or some EOD [explosive ordinance disposal], or unexploded ordinance, and they want to bring the information to us, we'll put it to use," he explained. "If your claims or your allegations are substantiated and we find you are what you claim to be, and we find the weapons in a particular building, there is a potential for reward there."

But, he says U.S. forces are more interested in catching individuals who are using the weapons than in buying them up. In fact, he says a program of buying up weapons could create a new market, which, he says, the U.S. military does not want.

Under a coalition forces policy announced in June, each household is allowed to have one AK-47, or any other smaller weapon, including pistols, shotguns or air rifles.