Monday, February 12, 2007

Italy Foils Mafia Arms For Iraq Plot

The BBC has another suggestion as to where all those weapons in Iraq may be coming from - plain, old-fashioned, crooked, free-market entrepreneurship.

Italian police say they have broken up a major arms trafficking ring that was planning to supply thousands of weapons to insurgents in Iraq. They say the group involved had connections in Malta, Russia, Libya and China and some of those arrested were wealthy businessmen working in exports.

This began as a routine drugs investigation. But soon police in the central Umbria region realised they had stumbled across something far more significant. So far they have arrested 16 people - 12 on suspicion of drug dealing but four on allegations they were intending to supply arms.

Police from the anti-Mafia unit say they were planning to move 500,000 AK 47 assault rifles and 10 million pieces of ammunition. The weapons, they said, had been sourced in China during what looked like routine business trips. The coded emails recovered suggest the weapons were to be moved through Libya and on to Iraq.

Some of those arrested are wealthy businessmen involved in the export business, though the Italian ministry of defence says they had no permission to move arms. Police in the Umbrian town of Terni, where the arrests were made, said there was a link between the gang and people working for a senior Libyan diplomat.

No weapons were confiscated during the enquiry and it is not thought any had yet been sent.
Occam's Razor suggests that such black market operations are all that is required to explain the current situation in Iraq, where there is such a glut of weapons that it is now the main source for arms dealers across the region.

In any case, there's a question over whether any arms coming into Iraq from Iran are primarily aimed at US troops in the first place, rather than at their Sunni compatriots.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the attacks on US troops in Iraq are from Sunni insurgents and most analysts agree that the Sunnis are getting their arms "from private sources in the region, as well as from stockpiles from Saddam Hussein's army," not from Iran at all. As MSNBC's Christopher Dickey notes today, "that's one reason the latest National Intelligence Estimate concludes Iran is not 'a major driver of violence' in Iraq."

Instead of trying (and mostly failing) to convince the world that he doesn't want to attack Iran, Bush would be far better served by asking Iran to help catch these entrepreneurial smugglers on any side of any border. If that involved suggesting that certain commanders of the Quods force were lining their own pockets at Iranian government expense, so much the better. Iran's leaders probably could not resist the temptation to look askance at their loyal officers in such a case, weakening the Iranian regime. That would leave openings for diplomacy and negotiation that simply don't exist when American rhetoric is as hard-nosed as it is now.

Update My good friend Fester has a look at all the possible nations (and non-nations) who could be sending arms into Iraq might be, and concludes that "pretty much every group and nation in the world that has marginal interest in the Middle East OR three pointy sticks to rub together are selling weapons to some non-governmental actor in Iraq."