Sunday, October 07, 2007

Arms and The Man (and the Money)

From this week’s
Washington Post:

"Iraq has ordered $100 million worth of light military equipment from China for its police force, contending that the United States was unable to provide the materiel and is too slow to deliver arms shipments, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said yesterday. “

Instead of making jokes about how the Chinese have to divert the lead from their toys to meet the demand for the bullets to go with the guns they’re selling to the Iraqis; or about how finally someone-else besides Halliburton and Blackwater gets to make a profit from the war I'd urge a more proper response on the lines of WTF?!! (I know, I know... that’s the proper response for everything to do with Iraq).

You see, back in August of this year as General Petraeus was engaged in his 17-day “the surge is working” press campaign before finally testifying in September that the surge was working, the Washington Post noted a rather embarrassing report from the GAO. Apparently 190,000 weapons meant for Iraqi security forces (meaning, the police) had gone “missing” between June 2004 and September 2005—under Petraeus’ watch as the general in charge of the Multi National Security Transition Command for Iraq (MNSTC-I).

When eventually asked about the sloppy book-keeping and shortfall, Petraeus claimed that getting the weapons and equipment distributed ASAP was more important than paperwork, so important and urgent that his men were “issuing” the arms by “kicking them off the planes”, and since then the subject seems to have been ignored.

Back in August I looked further into the missing guns story as best I could. What I dug-up is very confusing (Guns and Money on my personal blog) but here's a rough summary:

The US spent somewhere between $237 million to $345 million from June 2004 to July 2006 on at least 701,000 weapons (plus ancillary equipment) for a 137,000–man Iraqi Army and a 160,000-man police force (297,000 total). I’ve no idea if any more weapons have been purchased and “distributed” from July 2006 to October 2007.

So if we take 701,000 as the total number of weapons bought, subtract 297,000 as the number needed and then subtract the 190,000 “lost” we are left with 214,000 weapons still unaccounted-for.

And yet the Iraqis, who ought to be fully-equipped by now and then-some, have just signed a $100 million deal with the Chinese to provide them with arms and equipment they apparently desperately need that the US can’t provide quickly enough!
I don’t know what the unit-cost for Chinese-made AK-47’s bought-in-bulk is, but in the US a single AR-15 type weapon can be had for a little under $800. I’d imagine say 10,000 Chinese AK-47’s could be had for $300 each? So $300 x 100,000 (guns) equals $30 million (not including shipping and handling, and I don’t mean that facetiously—it is a factor). That still leaves plenty of change for armor, NVG’s, radios etc.

Why haven't the Iraqis been getting their weapons from the US?

"We haven't converted toaster factories to produce carbines
and we're working hard just to supply our own troops," said an administration official involved with Iraq policy. "Our factories are working for our own troops. So it's true we don't have the ability to provide these rifles and other equipment they're looking for."

I’ll leave the stupid toaster-factory remark alone, but this next paragraph is interesting:

“In 2004 and 2005, the United States bought 185,000 AK-47s from an Eastern European country - after Iraqis rejected U.S.-made M-16 assault rifles.”

The US simply lost the sale. 'Funny thing' about that “Eastern European country”—according to Amnesty International it was actualy Bosnia and Serbia, it was 350,000 AK-47’s and it was organized by private contractors (I don’t know why WashPo is being so coy now, it’s what they published in August).

It’s no wonder they Iraqis favored the AK’s—they know how to use them already, the 7.62 mm ammo is readily available in the region (the M-16/AR-15/M-4 uses 5.56mm standard NATO round) and it’s not an American symbol.

“The problem is that the Iraqi government doesn't have - as yet - a clear plan for making sure that weapons are distributed, that they are properly monitored and repeatedly checked," said Rachel Stohl of the Center for Defense Information, an independent think tank. “

That’s just a sensible observation from Rachel Stohl, but I hope she doesn’t imagine that the US would do a better job! From the information I’ve been bothered to find, it’s impossible to tell if 190,000 real weapons were lost or whether they only existed on-paper; it’s also possible that tens of thousands of real weapons are in unintended hands. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the money figures are very, very, real.

There’s some military vernacular, coined I believe during WWII, that may be appropriately applied here—SNAFU and FUBAR. The usual suspects are making their tens or many tens of millions, but others are involved too—serving quartermasters and the like, picking up a few hundred grand or maybe a million—peanuts compared to the big boys, but enough money to warrant anyone trying to be a “boy-scout” getting killed.

There’s one other thing from this article that I noticed which may be fodder for another post:

“Iraq has become one of the largest buyers of U.S.-made weapons. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that Baghdad has signed deals to buy $1.6 billion in U.S. arms, with another $1.8 billion in possible weapons purchases. “

Great! So that $100 million deal with the Chinese for weapons we paid at least $237 million-for that they apparently didn’t get is no big deal—we just got a $1.6 billion contract! Yeah, and who’s in charge of that?

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