Friday, May 12, 2006

99 Tonnes of Guns

Were purchased from leftover Bosnian war stocks for the Iraqi security forces by U.S. agents in BiH, and flown out of the country by Aerocom in four runs with the Ilyushin 76 ER-IBV, serial no. 3423699. But where they were delivered remains a mystery, and it is feared that the weapons actually went to the insurgents.

This all took place in August, 2004, immediately after Aerocom's Moldovan AOC was revoked and the Antonov-26 ER-AFH was seized in Belize for cocaine smuggling. Now, several people have suggested to me that weapons might be reaching Iraqi insurgents directly through Baghdad Airport. Carlos for one, and "Minnesota" in the comments. I was sceptical of this - surely not?

Yet the foundation of the story seems solid.
Although the altered MoFTER documentation cites "Coalition forces in Iraq" as the official end-users in five shipments of arms to Iraq, the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq, MNSTC-I, the coalition force responsible for training the new Iraqi security forces, and their commanding US General have claimed "not to have …received any weapons from Bosnia" and say they are "not aware of any [arms] purchases for Iraq from Bosnia"
Now, you might wonder how such a thing could have happened. But what with the security at Baghdad Airport being the work of the now-notoriously corrupt and hopeless CusterBattles, and Iraq running alive with fake's not impossible that someone just turned up with lorries, men in uniforms and vaguely official documents and drove off with a load of guns.

The MCC- (=Aerocom) flight numbers apparently never appeared in the requests for landing slots sent to the CENTCOM Air Component's Regional Air Movements Control Centre, but it's worth remembering that ER-IBV was technically under a lease from Jet Line International to Aerocom, so it quite possibly switched numbers en route - I certainly remember Jet Line International flight numbers on the Sharjah-Baghdad route at the time. According to the report, quoting the RAMCC manager, the only Aerocom callsign was an Antonov 12 based in Kuwait (probably working for KBR - note that the job was transferred from Aerocom to JLI in November, 2004).

Well, if you don't count this Antonov 24 in Baghdad, that was true. The whole deal was set up through a bizarre menagerie of hustlers, dealers, brokers, middlemen and general parasites including Kurdish militiamen, Israeli arms dealers, Swiss arms dealers and a British company of almost certain bogusness, and the possibility that one party to the deal got a better offer and double-crossed the coalition cannot be ruled out.

Alternatively, they got an offer they couldn't refuse, in the classic phrase. Which is what happened to Dale Stoeffel, who bizarrely had a contract with the Iraqi Ministry of Defence to export surplus Iraqi arms until he was assassinated near Taji north of Baghdad after inquiring into the diversion of funds to a Lebanese middleman. His own gig had been signed off three days before the Aerocom flights began
On December 8, 2005, Stoeffel went to Taji military base outside Baghdad to examine stockpiled Iraqi weaponry and equipment. Taji is believed to have been one of the sites where newly-arrived equipment supplied by US contractors was also stored. On his return trip from the base to Baghdad Stoeffel was ambushed by a previously unheard of group describing themselves as the "Brigades of Islamic Jihad". Following his murder, Wye Oak Technologies lost their contract with the Iraqi Ministry of Defence and with it the right to sell Iraqi military surpluses.

What happened to Iraq’s surplus, and whether any of it was diverted, or sold abroad, is unknown. United Nations customs data indicates that a quantity of armoured vehicles valued at US$752,854 was exported from Iraq to Uganda in 2004 at a time when the United Nations reports criticised Ugandan political and military authorities of assisting armed groups in the Ituri district of the DRC.
You may recall that, back in January, 2005, I reported this:
And, further afield, it is reported that mysterious Antonov-12s are visiting Old Entebbe airfield in Uganda enroute from the eastern Congo to Dubai. This airfield is currently used by the Ugandan armed forces and the UN. Apparently, the flights were not authorised, but the army liaison officer (Captain Kazungu) at the airport got $300 for each movement not reported to the Ugandan CAA. The Ugandan military denies everything. The goings-on came to light after an An12 crashed, killing six Russian flyers. The list of names makes interesting reading - Air Service and Service Air are there, as are Volga-Atlantic and Showa. In the past, such flights to or from the Ugandan army in the Congo were routed via Kigali to provide plausible deniability..
There's something incredible about a war zone that actually exports guns. And interestingly, there were also flights, operated by Aerocom/JLI with Ilyushin-76 aircraft, that left Tuzla heading for Rwanda later that year with suspicious cargo.

Update: Regarding Stoeffel, I suppose it could just about have been justified that Iraq was disposing of equipment, if the train-and-equip programme had been set up to replace all their stuff - and it's not as if extravagance was unusual at the time. But I wonder if he discovered that the weapons he was exporting for the Iraqi government's account were the same ones imported from Bosnia with coalition funds?

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