“It seems strange that a pro-Western government, supported by the U.S. Army and other NATO countries on its own territory, would seek Russian or Chinese weapons through questionable channels.” Indeed it does.
“Italy Probe Unearths Huge Iraq Arms Deal,” by Charles J. Hanley and Ariel David for AP (thanks to John):
PERUGIA, Italy (AP) – In a hidden corner of Rome’s busy Fiumicino Airport, police dug quietly through a traveler’s checked baggage, looking for smuggled drugs. What they found instead was a catalog of weapons, a clue to something bigger.
Their discovery led anti-Mafia investigators down a monthslong trail of telephone and e-mail intercepts, into the midst of a huge black-market transaction, as Iraqi and Italian partners haggled over shipping more than 100,000 Russian-made automatic weapons into the bloodbath of Iraq.
As the secretive, $40 million deal neared completion, Italian authorities moved in, making arrests and breaking it up. But key questions remain unanswered.
For one thing, The Associated Press has learned that Iraqi government officials were involved in the deal, apparently without the knowledge of the U.S. Baghdad command – a departure from the usual pattern of U.S.-overseen arms purchases.
Why these officials resorted to “black” channels and where the weapons were headed is unclear.
The purchase would merely have been the most spectacular example of how Iraq has become a magnet for arms traffickers and a place of vanishing weapons stockpiles and uncontrolled gun markets since the 2003 U.S. invasion and the onset of civil war.
Some guns the U.S. bought for Iraq’s police and army are unaccounted for, possibly fallen into the hands of insurgents or sectarian militias. Meanwhile, the planned replacement of the army’s AK-47s with U.S.-made M-16s may throw more assault rifles onto the black market. And the weapons free-for-all apparently is spilling over borders: Turkey and Iran complain U.S.-supplied guns are flowing from Iraq to anti-government militants on their soil.
Iraqi middlemen in the Italian deal, in intercepted e-mails, claimed the arrangement had official American approval. A U.S. spokesman in Baghdad denied that.
“It seems strange that a pro-Western government, supported by the U.S. Army and other NATO countries on its own territory, would seek Russian or Chinese weapons through questionable channels,” the anti-Mafia prosecutor wrote in seeking the arrest warrant that short-circuited the complex deal.