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Iraqi Militiamen Hand Over Their Weapons - 2004-10-12


Police stations in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City are overwhelmed with huge crowds of Mehdi army members showing up to hand over their weapons. It is part of a deal to bring peace to the impoverished community that has been wracked with violence and fighting for several weeks.

Hundreds of members of Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army jammed local police stations in Sadr City, obeying the cleric's order to hand over their medium and heavy weapons to Iraqi police and National Guardsmen.

Police used whistles and loudspeakers to try to calm down the situation.

There were so many militiamen returning weapons, bursts of anger erupted because people became frustrated at having to wait for hours to hand them over.

Hundreds of weapons were collected and piled up near the police station; including machine guns, rocket launchers, hand grenades and mortars.

In return for the weapons, there will be cash payments up to $1000 for heavy machine guns.

Mehdi army member Ali Hassan, 34, said he did not care about the money.

Mr. Hassan said he was returning machine guns and rifles because his leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, ordered him to, and because he wants more peace and security in his neighborhood.

Another Mehdi army member, who did not want to be identified, agreed.

The man says the amount of money he will get will not be enough to start a new business or buy something special. He says he is doing it, because he wants security in Iraq.

Others were visibly upset because police were giving them vouchers instead of cash. The vouchers can be redeemed for cash at a later time, according to the interim government.

The head of Iraq's National Guard in Sadr City, Mahdi al-Musfr, said he was shocked to see so many weapons.

The commander says Sadr City became an arsenal of weapons. He says none of the weapons he has seen are sophisticated, but he says it does not matter. He adds that gathering the weapons and making the area peaceful is what is important.

Sadr City is home to about two million mostly Shiite Muslims. Mehdi army members have been fighting Iraqi and U.S. forces in the impoverished Baghdad neighborhood for several weeks. The fighting included precision air strikes by American forces.

Following negotiations through mediators, the Mehdi army agreed to hand over their weapons in return for cash, amnesty for those who have committed no crimes, and a chance to take part in Iraq's political process.

In return, they are to hand over control of the area to Iraqi police and National Guard. The interim government gave the militia until Friday to complete the process. It also indicated it would be willing to spend as much as $500 million on reconstruction projects in the slum, if peace prevails.