Missing US arms probe goes global By David Isenberg
WASHINGTON - The issue of missing US weapons in Iraq is getting, as Alice said
in Wonderland, curiouser and curiouser. What started out as a mere report
documenting improper bookkeeping procedures for assault rifles and pistols
given by the Pentagon to Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005 is turning into
an international scandal.
It started on July 31, when the US Government Accountability Office (GAO)
released a report "Stabilizing Iraq: DOD [Department
of Defense] Cannot Ensure That US-Funded Equipment Has Reached Iraqi Security
Forces". A classified version of the report will be submitted to Congress next
The report found that since 2003, the United States has provided about US$19.2
billion to develop Iraqi security forces. As part of that effort, components of
the Multinational Force-Iraq (MNF-I), are responsible for implementing the US
program to train and equip Iraqi forces. The report found that as of July, the
DOD and MNF-I had not specified which DOD accountability procedures, if any,
apply to the train-and-equip program for Iraq.
As Congress funded the train-and-equip program for Iraq outside traditional
security assistance programs, the Pentagon had a large degree of flexibility in
managing the program. Normally, the traditional security assistance programs
are operated by the State Department. Since the funding did not go through
traditional security assistance programs, the DOD accountability requirements
normally applicable to these programs did not apply. Thus the DOD and MNF-I
cannot fully account for Iraqi forces' receipt of US-funded equipment.
As a result, the GAO found a discrepancy of at least 190,000 weapons between
data reported by the former commander of the Multinational Security Transition
Command-Iraq (MNSTC-I) and the property books. The GAO report indicates that US
military officials do not know what happened to 30% of the weapons the United
States distributed to Iraqi forces from 2004 through early this year.
The highest previous estimate of unaccounted-for weapons was 14,000, in a
report issued last year by the inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
According to that report, 13,180 Glock automatic pistols were unaccounted for.
The more recent GAO study puts the total figure for missing pistols closer to
80,000. In addition, the report found that US officials in Iraq could not
account for 751 M1F assault rifles and 99 MP5 machine-guns.
It seems a virtual certainty that many of the Glocks have been diverted to the
black market. An article in the current issue of Newsweek magazine quotes a
senior Turkish security official, who said his government estimates that some
20,000 US-bought Glock pistols have been brought from Iraq into his country
over the past three years.
The GAO reached the estimate of 190,000 missing arms - 110,000 AK-47s and
80,000 pistols - by comparing the property records of the MNSTC-I against
records US General David Petraeus maintained of the arms and equipment he had
ordered, after he was brought in in June 2004 to build up Iraqi security
The gaps between the two records are enormous. Petraeus reported that about
185,000 AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 pieces of body armor and 140,000
helmets were issued to Iraqi security forces from June 2004 through September
2005. But the property books contained records for 75,000 AK-47 rifles, 90,000
pistols, 80,000 pieces of body armor and 25,000 helmets.
The fact that the weapons are not fully accounted for does not necessarily mean
they are all missing. It is possible that the US military simply does not have
the supporting records confirming the dates the equipment was received, the
quantities of equipment delivered, or the Iraqi units receiving the items.
On the other hand it seems fairly likely that some of the missing weapons are
being used against US forces in Iraq. Given that the most readily accessible
black market for those stolen weapons is in Iraq, some of those are going to be
bought by the insurgents.
In fact, the problem could be considerably worse than the GAO report indicates.
According to Amnesty International research, additional hundreds of thousands
of US-approved arms transfers from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Iraq could also be
missing. In a May 2006 report, Amnesty revealed that Taos Inc, a US company
with multiple DOD contracts, subcontracted to a Moldovan/Ukrainian company
called Aerocom to transport hundreds of thousands of arms, more than 90 tonnes
of AK-47s, and other weapons from Bosnia to Iraq between July 31, 2004, and
June 31, 2005, for Iraqi security forces.
US military air-traffic controllers in Iraq, however, said Aerocom never
requested landing slots to touch down in the country. Aerocom smuggled weapons
to Liberia in 2002 and was operating without a valid license in 2004, according
to the United Nations Security Council.
As of August, Amnesty was still awaiting a reply from the Pentagon regarding
its investigation into the Bosnia-to-Iraq weapons shipments.
And, in a move that can only be likened to the fox guarding the hen-house, it
turns out, as the Los Angeles Times reported on August 13, that there may have
been another factor at work, namely the US government's use of Viktor Bout - a
Russian air transporter who also happens to be the world's most notorious arms
When the US government needed to fly four planeloads of seized weapons from
Bosnia to Iraqi security forces in Baghdad in August 2004, it used Aerocom. But
Aerocom is tied to Bout's aviation empire. The problem is that the planes
apparently never arrived. US officials admitted they had no record of the
flights landing in Baghdad.
Why the US government would have used Bout-controlled Aerocom - which had
already been linked to supplying arms to Liberia when it was ruled by Charles
Taylor and to drug traffickers in Belize - is a mystery in and of itself,
considering that by 2004 Bout was very well known to the US government as a
global gun-runner whom they wanted to put out of business.
The latest development occurred this week when it was reported that that
Italian anti-Mafia investigators had uncovered an alleged shipment of 105,000
rifles of which the US military command in Iraq was unaware. The Italian team,
in an investigation code-named Operation Parabellum, stopped the $40 million
sale and made four arrests. The consignment appears to have been ordered by the
Iraqi Interior Ministry. The US high command in Baghdad admitted it had no
knowledge of any such order, even though the ministry is supposed to inform the
US before purchasing arms.
An Iraqi Interior Ministry official insisted the weapons were mostly for Iraqi
police in al-Anbar province. But given the close relationship between the
Shi'ite-led government and Shi'ite militias and the irregular nature of the
arms order, the disclosure prompted suspicion that the eventual destination
could have been the militias, or police units close to them.
Furthermore, why the police in Anbar would need more weapons raises more
questions. The Pentagon has issued 169,280 AK-47s, 167,789 pistols and 16,398
machine-guns to the 161,000 police in Iraq and 28,000 border police.
David Isenberg is a senior analyst with the British American Security
Information Council. He is also a member of the Coalition for a Realistic
Foreign Policy, an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute, contributor to the
Straus Military Reform Project, a research fellow at the Independent Institute,
and a US Navy veteran. The views expressed are his own.