Fragile peace in Iraqi Shiite cities a boon for local gunsmiths

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Media: AFP
Byline: Ali Assadi
Date: 18 August 2006

NAJAF, Iraq, Aug 18, 2006 (AFP) - The threat of violence in Iraq's Shiite
holy cities of Najaf and Karbala has become a boon for local gunsmiths as
residents fish out their old weapons for repairs.

Although calmer than other restive regions of Iraq, notably the capital
Baghdad, the cities of Najaf and Karbala have had their share of bombings
and clashes.

On August 10, a suicide bomber struck in Najaf at the last checkpoint
outside the shrine of Imam Ali -- one of Shiite Islam's holiest sites -- and
killed 35 people.

And Karbala was virtually locked down this week after clashes broke out
between Iraqi security forces and militiamen loyal to a local Shiite cleric.

The people of the two cities are now increasingly arming themselves against
any outbreak of violence or insurgent attack, a trend that keeps the local
craftsmen busy.

Qasim Ali, who lives in a Najaf neighbourhood where violence and thefts are
becoming a daily reality, dug out his old pistol hidden away for many years
and walked to the shop of Karem al-Faham, the neighbourhood gunsmith.

After a few days, his old, corroded pistol was returned looking virtually
new, and ready to fire.

"I have been working in this craft for 17 years since I was 25," said Faham,
surrounded by dozens of old guns waiting to be repaired.

"Fixing weapons has turned into a thriving business these days, thanks to
the bad security situation," he said, while cleaning the barrel of a rifle.

A licensed gunsmith since before the fall of Saddam Hussein, Faham can
repair a gun in an hour or a day.

"Most of the weapons people ask me to fix are old ones. These weapons are
like the Siminov and the Brno," he said referring to Romanian and
Czechoslovak firearms.

Other guns are virtual antiques, but still potentially deadly.

"Some weapons are just called 'English' because they were used to fight the
British troops during the 1920 Revolution," said Faham.

While Faham specialises in elderly weapons, he has kept himself up to date
with the latest trends and can equally repair the ubiquitous Kalashnikov
assault rifles favoured by Iraqi security forces, militia and insurgents

"I can also make changes in the size of the weapon to make it smaller,"
Faham says proudly. "That way they can be used quickly and more easily."

Faham charges between three and 35 dollars to repair old and new guns,
although making drastic changes can "even cost more," he told AFP.

And his work clearly pleases customers like Ali.

"I used to neglect my gun. It is now okay," he said, after paying 35 dollars
for the repairs.

Given the dangers of life in post-invasion Iraq, weapons are becoming more
costly to buy, making the local gunsmith an important local figure.

"Before the fall of the regime, we were only allowed to mend weapons which
were licensed by the state. We were not allowed to receive all sorts of
weapons," Faham said.

Now, gun law is a bit more of a free-for-all, and for those nostalgic for
the kind of excesses seen at Saddam's court, there is another service on
offer: "If the customer wants, I can laminate his gun in silver or gold."