Sunday, August 19, 2007

War Profiteers Read My Weblog

Disturbing Search Request of the decade:, searching Google for "who would handle a commercial shipment of arms and ammunitions from Sharjah to Baghdad". That'll be someone downstream of AS5384, or Etisalat (Emirates Telecom), the UAE's fun-loving national telco monopoly, best known for blocking more websites than China.

Ha. But there is some actual substance in this post; ever wondered what Tony Buckingham and Tim Spicer's Heritage Oil & Gas was up to these days, now that their separate oil deal in Iraq's looking like the subprimest mortgage of the century? Instigating a frontier incident between Uganda and the DRC, it seems, thanks to the Uganda Sunday Vision. Heritage is drilling for oil around Lake Albert; the Congolese seem to have taken exception to their straying across the (undemarcated) frontier, and the issue was dealt with at the Kalashnikov's point, with the result that a security guard for Heritage was killed, (Update: No he wasn't; at least, he wasn't a "security guard" but a geophysicist and ex-lifeboatsman from Whitby) as was at least one Congolese soldier.

Fortunately, at least if the statements in this Reuters DeathWatch story are true, the matter is being referred to a four-power conference in Kampala next month for (one hopes..) settlement. The Great Lakes region as a flight to quality? Well, well, oil well.

It sounds more likely that the region might be a good place for flight; if there's anywhere you're less likely to get caught, I've not heard of it. Which is why this came as no surprise; Italian police have exposed a huge sale of arms by various Italians to Iraq, specifically to the Iraqi Interior Ministry without reference to the US Multi-National Security Transition Command. Very suspiciously indeed, the 105,000 weapons (AKMs both standard and folding stock, and some machine guns) were ostensibly ordered for the Iraqi police in Anbar, although the number is not much lower than the total number of policemen in Iraq.

The deal was discovered by chance, during an investigation into Mafia drug-smuggling; one of the suspects' luggage was searched en route to Libya, but rather than drugs the police found various nonlethal military gear, and incriminating documents. Further inquiries showed he was conspiring to sell weapons to Libya, and also Iraq. Four men are in custody, but a fifth is on the run and is believed to be in the DRC; where, surprise surprise, he's in the diamond business. The prosecution is seeking information from the Congo on him; good luck with that.

By December last year, the deal had reached the stage where the Italians were looking into how to fly 105,000 guns from Bulgaria to Iraq; although their counterparty was apparently suggesting that the guns could be delivered to some other location and forwarded. Can anyone guess what (or more precisely who) a DRC diamond smuggler might have to offer a bunch of mafiosi who need to move a dubious air cargo?

This is a case of something I've been concerned about since at least 2004, and especially since the missing 99 tonnes of guns affair; we know that Iraq is full of a) guns and b) money, but who needs all these imported firearms in a country bursting at the seams with uncontrolled armaments? Where are they going?

One answer is "the insurgency"; if it is recruiting rapidly, or stockpiling, defections, captures, and corruption could mean that the coalition train-and-equip effort is arming the enemy. This is the Harkins option; in the early days in Vietnam, General Harkins' mismanaged distribution of weapons lost so many that the Vietcong for a while relied entirely on US equipment, forming infantry battalions with a bigger allocation of Browning machine guns than a typical ARVN unit had. It's also possible that security is so dire, and administration so hopeless, that entire shipments are being diverted. (Still haven't read A Bright Shining Lie, despite everything I tell you? You may be running out of time to astonish your friends with your apparent prescience.)

But the combination of Iraq's initial wealth of arms, and the sheer scale of spending, seems to surpass any possible rate at which anyone in Iraq could consume guns; and that would suggest they are being exported.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Certainly worth keeping an eye on arms shipments ostensibly for Iraq. More to come out about that.

Hugh G

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