Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Iraq Counts Cost of Stray Bullets Fired in Anger or Joy 

The father holds up the x-ray of Muhammad Akram, 4-years-old, who was injured by a random gunshot in his home in a village in the Yusufiya not far from Baghdad on May 20, 2024. (AFP)
The father holds up the x-ray of Muhammad Akram, 4-years-old, who was injured by a random gunshot in his home in a village in the Yusufiya not far from Baghdad on May 20, 2024. (AFP)
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Iraq Counts Cost of Stray Bullets Fired in Anger or Joy 

The father holds up the x-ray of Muhammad Akram, 4-years-old, who was injured by a random gunshot in his home in a village in the Yusufiya not far from Baghdad on May 20, 2024. (AFP)
The father holds up the x-ray of Muhammad Akram, 4-years-old, who was injured by a random gunshot in his home in a village in the Yusufiya not far from Baghdad on May 20, 2024. (AFP)

At weddings, football matches and other special events, some Iraqi men like to fire salvos of celebratory gunfire into the sky, worrying little about where the bullets might fall.

For some Iraqis, the tradition has been devastating, as have random bullets from sporadic gun battles in a society still awash with weapons after decades of war and turmoil.

Baghdad mother Randa Ahmad was busy with chores when a loud bang startled her. Alarmed, she hurried to the living room to find her four-year-old son Mohamed bleeding on the floor.

"A stray bullet hit him in the head," the 30-year-old said weeks later, her child sitting timidly by her side in their suburban house.

The bullet "came out of nowhere", said Ahmad, who doesn't know who fired it or why.

Her child now suffers from severe headaches and tires easily, but doctors say surgery to remove the bullet is too risky.

"If the bullet moves," Ahmad said, "it could cause paralysis."

Celebratory gunfire and gun battles sometimes sparked by minor feuds are a daily occurrence in Iraq, where firearms possession remains widespread despite a period of relative calm.

Iraq, a country of 43 million, endured wars under ruler dictator Saddam Hussein, the 2003 US-led invasion, and the sectarian conflict and extremist insurgencies that followed.

During the years of bloody turmoil, all types of weapons flooded into the country and have often been used in tribal disputes and political score-settling.

Many households claim to own firearms for protection.

As of 2017, some 7.6 million arms -- handguns, rifles and shotguns -- were held by civilians in Iraq, says monitoring group the Small Arms Survey, which believes the number has since risen.

- 'Bullet fell from the sky' -

Saad Abbas was in his garden in Baghdad when he was jolted by a sharp, searing pain in his shoulder.

"At first, I thought someone had hit me with a stone," the 59-year-old said. Then he realized that a "bullet fell from the sky" and hit him.

Months later, he remains mostly bedridden, the projectile still lodged in his shoulder after doctors advised against surgery because of a pre-existing medical condition.

"I can't raise my hand," he said. "It hurts. I can't even remove my bed cover."

Abbas voiced fury at those who fire off celebratory rounds when "a football team wins, during a wedding or an engagement party".

"Where do the bullets go?" he asked. "They fall on people!"

He decried the rampant gun ownership and said that "weapons should be exclusively in the hands of the state".

Iraqi law punishes illegal firearms possession with up to one year in prison, but authorities announced plans last year to tighten controls.

Security forces have urged civilians to register their guns in 697 centers, allowing each family to possess just one light weapon for "protection", said interior ministry spokesman Miqdad Miri.

The government also recently started offering civilians up to $4,000 to buy their weapons.

But Miri acknowledged that in tribal and rural areas, many people "consider weapons a part of their identity".

In recent years, their collections have been swelled by the "huge quantities" of firearms left behind by the Iraqi army during the US-led invasion, he said.

During the tumultuous years since, weak border controls and the emergence of extremists allowed arms trafficking to thrive.

- 'Attached to their weapons' -

"Our main problem is not small arms but medium and large weapons," Miri said, referring to military-issue assault rifles and other powerful guns.

Security expert Ahmed el-Sharifi also said that "civilians are attached to their weapons" but that even harder to control are the arsenals of "armed political groups and tribes... This is the most dangerous."

Despite the state's efforts to control the gun scourge, the problem frequently makes headlines.

Earlier this year, a video went viral showing armed clashes between relatives in a busy market in eastern Baghdad that left one person dead.

In March, a senior intelligence officer was shot dead when he tried to resolve a tribal dispute.

And in April, celebratory gunfire at a wedding took the life of the groom in the northern city of Mosul.

Last year, another man, Ahmed Hussein, 30, said he was hit in the leg, presumably also by a bullet fired at a wedding.

He said he had just gone for a nap when he was startled by gunfire and then felt a sharp pain.

"I fell out of bed and looked at my leg to find it bleeding," Hussein said.

He too decried how even a simple argument "between children or at a football game" can quickly lead to someone squeezing a trigger, with those paying the price often "innocent bystanders".



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Who is JD Vance? Things to Know about Donald Trump's Pick for Vice President

Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
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Who is JD Vance? Things to Know about Donald Trump's Pick for Vice President

Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)
Trump's pick for Vice President, US Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) arrives on the first day of the Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum on July 15, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Getty Images/AFP)

Former President Donald Trump on Monday chose US Sen. JD Vance of Ohio to be his running mate as he looks to return to the White House.

Here are some things to know about Vance, a 39-year-old Republican now in his first term in the Senate:

Vance rose to prominence with his memoir

Vance was born and raised in Middletown, Ohio. He joined the Marines and served in Iraq, and later earned degrees from Ohio State University and Yale Law School. He also worked as a venture capitalist in Silicon Valley.

Vance made a name for himself with his memoir, the 2016 bestseller "Hillbilly Elegy," which was published as Trump was first running for president. The book earned Vance a reputation as someone who could help explain the maverick New York businessman’s appeal in middle America, especially among the working class, rural white voters who helped Trump win the presidency.

"Hillbilly Elegy" also introduced Vance to the Trump family. Donald Trump Jr. loved the book and knew of Vance when he went to launch his political career. The two hit it off and have remained friends.

He was first elected to public office in 2022

After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Vance returned to his native Ohio and set up an anti-opioid charity. He also took to the lecture circuit and was a favored guest at Republican Lincoln Day dinners where his personal story — including the hardship Vance endured because of his mother’s drug addiction — resonated.

Vance's appearances were opportunities to sell his ideas for fixing the country and helped lay the groundwork for entering politics in 2021, when he sought the Senate seat vacated by Republican Rob Portman, who retired.

Trump endorsed Vance. Vance went on to win a crowded Republican primary and the general election.

He and Trump have personal chemistry

Personal relationships are extremely important to the former president and he and Vance have developed a strong rapport over years, speaking on the phone regularly.

Trump has also complimented Vance’s beard, saying he "looks like a young Abraham Lincoln."

Vance went from never-Trumper to fierce ally

Vance was a "never Trump" Republican in 2016. He called Trump "dangerous" and "unfit" for office. Vance, whose wife, lawyer Usha Chilukuri Vance, is Indian American and the mother of their three children, also criticized Trump’s racist rhetoric, saying he could be "America’s Hitler."

But by the time Vance met Trump in 2021, he had reversed his opinion, citing Trump’s accomplishments as president. Both men downplayed Vance's past scathing criticism.

Once elected, Vance became a fierce Trump ally on Capitol Hill, unceasingly defending Trump’s policies and behavior.

He is a leading conservative voice

Kevin Roberts, president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, called Vance a leading voice for the conservative movement, on key issues including a shift away from interventionist foreign policy, free market economics and "American culture writ large."

Democrats call him an extremist, citing provocative positions Vance has taken but sometimes later amended. Vance signaled support for a national 15-week abortion ban during his Senate run, for instance, then softened that stance once Ohio voters overwhelmingly backed a 2023 abortion rights amendment.

Vance has adopted Trump's rhetoric about Jan. 6

On the 2020 election, he said he wouldn't have certified the results immediately if he had been vice president and said Trump had "a very legitimate grievance." He has put conditions on honoring the results of the 2024 election that echo Trump's. A litany of government and outside investigations have not found any election fraud that could have swung the outcome of Trump's 2020 loss to Democratic President Joe Biden.

In the Senate, Vance sometimes embraces bipartisanship. He and Democratic Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown co-sponsored a railway safety bill following a fiery train derailment in the Ohio village of East Palestine. He's sponsored legislation extending and increasing funding for Great Lakes restoration, and supported bipartisan legislation boosting workers and families.

Vance can articulate Trump's vision

People familiar with the vice presidential vetting process said Vance would bring to the GOP ticket debating skills and the ability to articulate Trump’s vision.

Charlie Kirk, founder of the conservative activist group Turning Point USA, said Vance compellingly articulates the America First world view and could help Trump in states he closely lost in 2020, such as Michigan and Wisconsin, that share Ohio’s values, demographics and economy.