The Banality of Gun Violence - 05.29.2006

In the last few weeks friends of mine in Iraq have experienced a rash of deaths amongst their friends and coworkers.

It began with a courier we know being killed by gunfire. I’m still not sure whether it was at some kind of checkpoint, a carjacking, or other random violence.

At least five friends of Omar and his brother Mhyar were killed in the previous 2 or 3 weeks. One of those killed was the brother of a guy named Wisam, Omar’s best friend.

I’ve never met Wisam personally, but because Omar is often at his house and, because of the curfew, stays the night often as well, I’ve had a few chance conversations with him.

He’s a nice guy, though a bit strange-his nickname is Weirdo! He and Omar bond over their love for metal, metallica, and other similar things any American boy in his late teens/early 20s might be prone to.

Wisam’s brother was killed last week in a carjacking gone wrong. Apparently he shot back, but wasn’t able to scare them off or stop the assault. They shot back, and he was killed.

Two days later, the husband of Um Abeer, a woman who works with Omar’s mother, was killed in another carjacking. Both times the deaths were caused by guns.

For Wisam, his situation is made even worse by the fact that his father died two weeks earlier. No, he wasn’t killed by gun violence or deathsquads, just a good old fashioned heart attack.

I was having dinner with my friend Rafat last night and I mentioned to him that it had been a good two days. Two days since I heard of any of Omar’s friends being killed, or any other friends for that matter.

That’s when Rafat told me that the husband of his friend’s sister was killed the day before yesterday. I started to provide my regards, but, darkly, wanted as always to know how it happened.

As many of you may know, current accepted numbers put the daily death toll in Iraq at somewhere between 50 and 100 persons. Their deaths range from such causes as coalition operations, sectarian violence, and bombings, and of course carjackings, to name a few.

It only takes one of these many options to understand why the man I’m writing about began carrying a gun.

I’m keeping his name hidden for a variety of reasons, so I hope you’ll forgive me. Let’s just call him Abu Muhammad for now-a nom de guere used these days by many Baghdadis.

Abu Mohammad took to carrying a pistol with him when he went outside of his house, an effort to keep safe from the spate of carjackings and other violence now rampant in Baghdad.

Abu Mohammad only kept one bullet in his gun, which says something about his intentions. The only reason to keep just one bullet in your gun is the hope of firing a warning shot, to scare off would be assailants.

The other reason might be the rising cost of ammunition. The only people wasting ammunition these days in Iraq are the Iraqi Police-notoriously triggerhappy-and the US military. One recent study suggested the US military have fired as many as 250,000 bullets per “insurgent.”

After the exorbitant cost of pistols-usually several hundred dollars a piece since the Samarra bombing in February, perhaps Abu Mohammad couldn’t afford much in the way of ammunition.

As you’ll hear in a story that I’ll have published soon, families are now more concerned about protection than eating, and many have borrowed money or gone hungry just to afford the relatively low-in comparison-cost of a used Kalashnikov, now averaging around $250 US.

To put this in perspective, the average Iraqi salary is less than 200 per month.

Given all these things Abu Mohammad had on his mind, what happened next is more than understandable.

While driving through Baghdad’s heavy traffic, far worse these days than LA or Washington’s Beltway at rush hour, Abu Mohammad realized a dangerous oversight on his part.

He had loaded his pistol, as always, with one bullet. He placed the bullet into the chamber. And he forgot to put the safety lock on.

At this point, he realized the foolishness of this simple mistake, and attempted to rectify it. For anyone who’s tried to get a map to check their directions on a busy highway, or who’s been involved in an important cellphone call, the danger of this maneuver should be clear.

While removing the pistol and attempting to put on the safety, the gun went off, and the one bullet in Abu Mohammad’s pistol penetrated his leg, apparently severing the femoral artery.

Its still unclear how this happened, perhaps a checkpoint appeared suddenly, or an especially aggressive merge caught him offguard. It’s even possible he was startled or forced to come to an abrupt stop by a US or Iraqi convoy in the city.

Whatever the reason, the accident was noticed quickly and Abu Mohammad was rushed to a nearby hospital.

Unfortunately, as those of you with at least mild medical knowledge have already guessed, the wound was fatal.

The femoral artery is a major artery running through the leg, and severing this artery, especially in a country with the tenuous medical situation Iraq finds itself in, almost certainly results in death.

I hope Alive in Baghdad can continue to bring light to the stories of senseless death and violence in Iraq. Simple casualty numbers do no justice to the lives lived and lost in Iraq. If you have stories such as this, please share them, in the comments or with us directly by email.

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