Monday, November 12, 2007

Yet More Guns And Money

By Cernig

The New York Times over the weekend had another must read report on corrupt arms-dealing on the US taxpayer's dime in Iraq. Arms purchased by the U.S. for the Iraqi security forces were disappearing wholesale only to end up in places like Turkey (in the hands of PKK terrorists) or perhaps even in the hands of insurgents shooting at U.S. troops. And it seems plenty of people knew about it.
By all accounts, the businessman, Kassim al-Saffar, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war, did well at distributing the Pentagon-supplied weapons from the Baghdad Police Academy armory he managed for a military contractor. But, co-workers say, he also turned the armory into his own private arms bazaar with the seeming approval of some American officials and executives, selling AK-47 assault rifles, Glock pistols and heavy machine guns to anyone with cash in hand — Iraqi militias, South African security guards and even American contractors.

“This was the craziest thing in the world,” said John Tisdale, a retired Air Force master sergeant who managed an adjacent warehouse. “They were taking weapons away by the truckload.”

Activities at that armory and other warehouses help explain how the American military lost track of some 190,000 pistols and automatic rifles supplied by the United States to Iraq’s security forces in 2004 and 2005, as auditors discovered in the past year.

...Ted Nordgaarden, an Alaska state trooper who worked as the police academy’s supply chief, said most of the weapons he saw leaving the armory went with a military escort. For his part, Mr. Saffar denies any wrongdoing, including any arms dealings. Nearly a half-dozen American and Iraqi workers say his gun business was an open secret at the armory.

...“There were times we would issue a batch of weapons and within 10 days they would show up at the Enemy Weapons Purchase Program,” Major Cox, who is on his second tour in Baghdad, wrote by e-mail, referring to a military effort to buy guns from the streets.

“We didn’t always think we were going about things the right way,” said Major Isgrigg, who left Iraq in July. But he said he believed that his actions were necessary, saying of his commanders: “They rushed it. Their goal was to get those units standing as fast as possible, and then to get out of there. There was no planning for the long term.”

...Mr. Tisdale said Mr. Saffar had a steady stream of customers, from Iraqis to South African private security contractors. “There were truckloads of stuff moving out of that armory without my authorization,” Mr. Tisdale said.

Mr. Tisdale said that he complained repeatedly to two top American Logistics executives, but they assured him that Mr. Saffar’s dealings were proper. The company has not responded to requests for comment.

Mr. Tisdale and other co-workers said they believed that an American military official, Lt. Col. Levonda Joey Selph, an Army officer who oversaw the warehouse contract and whose activities have been part of the investigation into American Logistics, also must have known about the arms dealings. Mr. Tisdale said the colonel regularly visited the armory and met with Mr. Saffar. Mr. Nordgaarden recalled seeing Colonel Selph at the warehouse 8 to 10 times over a year.

In an brief encounter outside her Northern Virginia home, Colonel Selph would say only that she was not guilty of any wrongdoing, and that she was under orders not to speak to the press. She would not say whose orders.
Lt. Colonel Selph was a key aide to General Petraeus, who was in overall charge of arming the Iraqi security forces during 2004 and 2005. The lost weaponry weighs in at more than 475 tons and was worth somewhere between $50 and %180 million depending on whether you want cost price or the black-market price. Yet Petraeus' own explanation for all of the losses is that, on his orders, troops were kicking the stuff out of helicopters. He is on record as saying he believes every single gun reached Iraqi hands - but, of course, he said that before evidence began to surface that such wasn't the case at all.

It is possible that Petraeus was truly ignorant of all malfeasance before the GAO made him aware of it - in which case he must admit to a massive failure in his command responsibility as subordinates hoodwinked him. Or the other possibility is that his original statements were an attempt at a cover-up. After all, just how likely is it that all these staff sergeants and majors didn't take their concerns up the chain of command? How likely is it that a Lt. Colonel was able to stop all such concerns coming to her general's notice? After all, we're talking about a network of corruption and graft which includes the highest levels of the Iraqi government, the Mafia, crooked majors, colonels and a Lt. Colonel or two (at least), as well as the world's most notorious black-market arms dealer.

The big elephant in the room on this story is "how high does it go?" I doubt very much that the active and reserve Lt. Colonels so far implicated in this affair are the top of the tree.

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