Thursday, May 20, 2004

In the year since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, American-led troops have used a wide range of force to combat insurgents opposed to the military occupation. This week the army tried a new approach to silence Iraqi guns:

Buy them.

In their first program of its kind in Baghdad, American troops engaged in a weapons buyback program. It began on Saturday and was so popular that it was extended for another two days.

By Tuesday night hundreds of Iraqis had been paid $761,357 for 56,536 items, from bullets to assault rifles to mortars and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to the military. The soldiers set up well-guarded sales tables at three locations — a field, a cigarette factory and a soccer stadium surrounded by an empty lot.

"This is probably the only place in Baghdad where they can walk up with an R.P.G. launcher and not have a coalition soldier shoot at them," said Col. Robert Abrams, commander of the troops carrying out the program on a dusty lot outside Baghdad.

"We are trying to get as many weapons as possible out of their hands and into ours," said Capt. Bill Williams.

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