The US government has lost track of over 200,000 machine guns that were supposed to be used by the Iraqi police. The 99-ton cache of AK47s was to have been secretly flown out from a US base in Bosnia. But the four planeloads of arms have vanished. This, along with the escape of five Iraqi inmates from a newly-built high security prison should be raising new questions about the competence of the US occupation.
First, the missing guns.
According to human rights group Amnesty International, private arms brokers working for the Pentagon clandestinely shipped hundreds of thousands of weapons and tens of millions of rounds of ammunition from Bosnia to Iraq from July 2004 to June last year.
In a new report, Amnesty's arms control researched Bryan Wood says at least 200,000 Kalashnikovs destined for the Iraqi Army never arrived.
"This is really irresponsible behavior," he says in a titanic understatement.
By the time the machine guns disappeared, Wood says, they had already been through the hands of dubious private contractors from a half dozen countries.
"The principal US contracting firm had to use a broker in Croatia that was not known to the Croatian government," he begins. "They then used a freight forwarding agent in Bulgaria. They contracted a cargo company that had broken the US embargo on Liberia and also flew an aircraft out that didn't have air operating authorization."
But while the Defense Department's shipments to the Iraqi police never arrived, Iraqi Army units are finding the fighters they capture increasingly well equipped.
"The fighters have a lot of money," Iraqi military interrogator Mohammed al-Mamory explains over the phone from Baghdad. "Their weapon is usually the BTC automatic weapon. They have snipers, guns, and bombs. They have chemicals that can build bombs. They are spending a lot on buying them. We see most of the time the weapons are brand new. We have never seen them before."
In addition, American mistakes are complicating the job of Iraqi security forces. Five security detainees escaped from a high security prison in Northern Iraq Tueday. Ironically, the prison had just been rebuilt by ECC International, a military contractor based in Burlingame, California. Pratap Chatterjee, managing director of the non-profit Corpwatch and author of the book, "Iraq Inc., a Profitable Occupation." He recently visited a school ECC International rebuilt in Northern Iraq.
"When we went there, the boy's dormitory looked very nice. It had just been painted yellow and red, but the moment you went to the back you realized there was no paint in the back," Chatterjee says.
He says it was clear ECC International simply wanted to be able to take a photo in the front of the school that showed a job well done: "There was debris from the construction. There was no water in the taps and the sewage was flowing out the east side and polluting the ground there."
As such, Chatterjee's not surprised Iraqi prisoners broke through a wall that had just been repaired by ECC International and escaped.
So far, the US military hasn't caught the five escapees. A Pentagon spokesperson told Reuters they remain on the run.
Pacifica radio network reporter Aaron Glantz is author of the new book "How America Lost Iraq" (Tarcher/Penguin). More information at www.aaronglantz.com. Additional reporting by Salam Talib.