"My sister was hanging laundry on the rooftop when we heard her screams while we were drinking tea and eating the cookies our mom made in the yard of our house. We rushed to find her lying on the ground, with blood flowing from her right hand which had been hit by a stray bullet that tore through all the veins in it," says Huda (pseudonym) from Baghdad.
She adds, "We immediately rushed her to the hospital, and the next day my only brother asked about the source of the gunfire. He was told that our neighbors had fired the shots in celebration of their son's release from prison. This happened in the summer of 2018. The next day, the doctors informed us that my sister's right hand was paralyzed. My brother went to our neighbors' house, admonishing them, 'My sister is paralyzed because of your bullets. I hold you responsible if any harm comes to her, and I want the people who were shooting.'"
Huda continues, "On that same night, a phrase was written on the wall of our house in red, saying: 'Blood wanted'. After this day of terror, a delegation of men wearing tribal attire came to us and demanded a sum of money, claiming that my brother had insulted their tribe. They threatened that if we didn't pay the sum within three days, we would face severe consequences. So, we fled in the dark of night, leaving behind our belongings and possessions, especially since we knew that no one would protect us from their authority and influence. They even sent us messengers, spreading word through the people of the region that my brother's blood will be spilled. Since then, we have been living in Erbil, far away from our city and our hometown, Baghdad."
150 injuries were recorded as a result of fireworks, random shooting, and stray bullets on New Year's Eve this year in Baghdad alone
If Huda's situation ended with the loss of her sister's arm, it reached even more tragic ends in other cases, and there are too many to count in Iraq.
Shayya' Mohammad Jassim al-Bahadali, also known as Sheikh Hajji Shayya', 65, from the city of Sadr in Baghdad, spoke to Raseef22 about the circumstances of the death of his 10-year-old grandson, Mortada Fadel Kareem, who was killed by a stray bullet in the summer of 2022. He says, "My grandson (daughter's son) went with his father to visit the shrine of Imam Al-Kazim in Kadhimiya, and they headed to the courtyard to pray. While Mortada was in the second raka'ah of his prayer, his father was surprised by how long he stayed kneeling down in sujood and lightly tapped his shoulder, calling out, 'Have you finished your sujood, my son?' Only to find his son was already dead, after a stray bullet lodged in his skull, instantly killing him."
Al-Bahadali reveals, "This is not the first case in the family. There was a previous case about ten years ago when a stray bullet hit my nephew in the spinal cord in our region in Sadr City. He is now suffering from partial paralysis, and there are many ongoing cases targeting the neighborhood's residents."
The recurrence of these incidents within his family and region have led al-Bahadali to support awareness campaigns that combat random shooting, since the situation is no longer tolerable, as he says. For example, "The city of al-Sadr is witnessing ongoing clashes that have claimed the lives of 7 victims, who have no part in the dispute. They were hit by stray bullets that ended their lives." He adds while speaking with Raseef22, "Every day, until two in the morning, we are preoccupied with problems that may seem ridiculous, such as a dispute between two clans that escalated into armed clashes because of children who quarreled with each other while playing in the street. The adults intervened and started shooting at each other, resulting in casualties and injuries, not to mention the material damage."
"The doctors informed us that my sister's arm was paralyzed. My brother went to our neighbors' house to admonish them, 'My sister is paralyzed because of your bullets'. On that same night, the phrase 'Blood wanted' was written on the wall of our house in red"
There are no official statistics on the phenomenon of random gunfire these days. However, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has published official statistics on its websites indicating that 150 injuries were recorded as a result of fireworks, random shooting, and stray bullets on New Year's Eve this year in Baghdad alone, with 20 injuries in the eyes.
Data also indicate that at the beginning of 2021, around 84 people were struck with stray bullets in the head due to random gunfire, and as a result, lost their lives.
Ali Abbas, 33, a social activist and director of the Al-Tajdeed Foundation for Human and Community Development, from Baghdad, says that there are no official statistics, but the Ministry of Health announced in previous years that the number of victims of random gunfire and stray bullets reached 6,000. He adds, "Citizens, every Thursday and Monday, enter into two nights of high alertness due to random gunfire resulting from weddings." He expresses his regret for the frequency of these violations due to the intervention of corrupt political parties in appointing tribal leaders and the easy and "widespread trade of weapons among clan members, as prevalent as the trade of mobile phones." He also criticizes the lack of continuity when it comes to awareness campaigns by the media and television stations.
In celebration and sorrow
The capital Baghdad and the Iraqi provinces are witnessing a noticeable spread of the phenomenon of random gunfire and injuries from stray bullets. Everyone expresses joy by shooting bullets and various types of firearms into the air at weddings, graduations, birthdays, and when the national football team wins, as well as during mourning processions for funerals. This custom is prevalent in the country, and the greater the status of the deceased person in the tribe is, the grander the procession and the shooting is.
In addition, there are many customs in which firing guns and resorting to all kinds of firearms are common, including the phenomenon of the "tribal warning", locally known as the "degga ashairiya". It is an ancient tradition upheld by tribes, where members of the clan, along with their elders, extended family, and supporters, gather at the house of another family from a different tribe, carrying weapons of all kinds, including firearms, and sometimes hand grenades and rocket launchers. They shoot from the weapons and afterwards, the house is set on fire, serving as a strong warning to push the targeted tribe to negotiate or what is known in tribal language as "al-'atwah", which is a specified period of time determined by the initiating tribe for the targeted tribe to pay them money. If an agreement is not reached, open conflict (clashes) ensues between the two parties.
Men in tribal attire threatened that if we didn't pay, we'd face grave consequences. So we fled in the dark of night, leaving our life behind. No one would protect us from them. They even spread word through the region that my brother's blood will be spilled
In this regard, Ali Abbas says, "The phenomenon of carrying weapons and random firing has become a habit and a source of pride and boasting. What is surprising is that those responsible for upholding the law, including politicians and security personnel, are the most prominent participants in this phenomenon. It is natural to see shows on social media of hundreds of individuals firing their weapons into the sky, but they end up striking innocent bystanders."
The courts receive many lawsuits and cases where criminals claim that their victims were hit by stray gunfire. This is used as an excuse to escape punishment in cases related to honor crimes, protecting reputation, or other disputes, according to Abbas.
For his part, al-Bahadali confirms that lawlessness is the prevailing feature in a state that has no control over tribal weapons, and that the weakness of the law is evident, especially in terms of its lack of enforcement. He points out that security forces, including the police, stand idle during gunfire incidents, fearing the authority and influence of tribes. The reason is the lack of legal support, in addition to the weaknesses in the legal aspect and a state that does not listen to its citizens and sheikhs.
The law is to blame?
Lawyer Ali Khalil Adham, 34, absolves the law and throws the ball into the court of executive authorities. He says, "Citizens blame the judiciary, and accusations of its lack of action dominate the scene. In reality, the judiciary operates according to its legal procedures. The problem facing citizens arises when the responsible authorities, represented by the protection of a certain geographical area or a specific region, fail to take action. For example, citizens report cases of tribal disputes, but what can be done if the security forces in the National Security or the Ministry of Interior refuse to take any action? In that case, a lawsuit is filed against the ministry, represented by its minister."
While praying, the father noticed how long his 10-year-old remained kneeling down. He lightly tapped his shoulder, saying, 'Have you finished praying, son?' only to find his son was already dead, after a stray bullet lodged in his skull, instantly killing him
He adds, "The Iraqi Penal Code considers the crime of firing gunshots as one of the offenses specified in Article 495 of the Penal Code. It stipulates that anyone who fires gunshots faces imprisonment for a period not exceeding one month or a financial fine. Then, Decision No. 570 was issued, which narrowed down the imprisonment to a period of not less than one year and not exceeding three years." In his opinion, "There is a need for deterrent legislation that keeps pace with the recklessness of weapon holders, and the law should not exempt partisan or rank considerations. These are men of the law, and enforcement starts with them. Holding them accountable is equivalent to acknowledging the law and serves as a deterrent tool for non-compliant citizens."
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