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Iraqis Urged to Hand Over Large Weapons - 2003-05-31

Iraqi citizens are being urged to hand over any large weapons that may be in their possession. For the next two weeks, they can do so without fear of being arrested. But afterward, coalition forces say, they will be jailed.

Beginning Sunday, Iraqi citizens will have a grace period of two weeks to hand over any large, military style weapons in their possession, including automatic weapons, rocket launchers and hand grenades.

Coalition forces say confiscating these kinds of weapons is crucial to the effort to increase security throughout Iraq.

But many Iraqis fear they will be left unprotected at a time when lawlessness continues throughout much of the country.

Major Scott Slaten, with the U.S. 1st Armored Division in Baghdad, says coalition forces will not be confiscating personal weapons. "We're not trying to disarm the Iraqi people," he explained. "What we're trying to do is limit the amount of heavy weapons that are allowed on the street. Now, if a family at home needs a weapon for self-protection, we're not taking away their pistols, in order for them to provide that protection. However, in the future, they won't be allowed to walk down the street with those weapons."

For the next two weeks, Iraqis can hand over weapons without fear of arrest. However, Major Slaten says that after the grace period ends, Iraqis in possession of such weapons will go to jail. "After two weeks, basically, the gloves come off," said Major Slaten. "We're going to start to systematically remove the weapons from the system. We will do coordinated search operations, where we go into communities, where we go in and seal off the area, and we start to search house to house, if necessary. We, often times, are assisted by the Iraqi people themselves, who don't want these weapons in their neighborhoods, or know that the people who are using them are bad guys. So, we'll be able to target specific individuals and specific groups to go and get the weapons and remove them. Those people then will be taken to jail."

Iraqis will be able to apply for what are called weapon authorization cards, allowing them to keep their personal weapons for things such as hunting, sport shooting or personal safety.