Iraq

Missing Weapons Found in Turkey

| Thu Aug. 30, 2007 12:03 PM EDT

As mentioned here before, a large number of U.S. weapons supplied to the Iraqi Army have gone missing. According to today's New York Times, at least some of them have been located in Turkey. Pentagon officials have confirmed that the serial numbers of an unspecified number of Glock handguns matched those on a list of weapons originally provided to Iraqi military units in 2004 and 2005; estimates for the number of weapons recovered vary from dozens to hundreds. The Turkish government alleges that the U.S. arms have been used in "crimes" committed in Turkey by members of the PKK, a Kurdish separatist group. U.S. officials say they have no proof of this, but they have apparently taken Turkish claims seriously enough to dispatch a high-ranking Pentagon official to investigate the claims. According to the Times article:

Mr. Gates sent the Pentagon general counsel, William J. Haynes II, to Turkey last month for talks with Turkish officials, who had been complaining for months that American-supplied weapons were being used in murders and other violent crimes carried out, in some cases, by Kurdish militants.
Turkey's allegations that Iraq was being used as a sanctuary to carry out attacks inside Turkey have strained relations between the Bush administration and Ankara over the past six months, with Turkey not ruling out a military intervention into northern Iraq to stop the activity.
American officials said that it appeared that the weapons found in Turkey were given to Iraqi units in 2004 and 2005 when, in the rush to build police and army units, controls on distribution of firearms had been much weaker. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was then in charge of training and equipping Iraqi forces and who is now the top American commander in Iraq, has said that the imperative to provide weapons to Iraqi security forces was more important at the time than maintaining impeccable records...
Pentagon officials said Wednesday that the problem of weapons turning up in Turkey was part of a larger investigation being carried out by the Pentagon inspector general, Claude M. Kicklighter, a retired Army three-star general, into allegations that American-supplied weapons had been improperly accounted for and fallen into the wrong hands.

The Turkish government claims that Iraqi security forces, particularly Kurdish units loyal to Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's northern Kurdish region, may have sold or simply given the weapons to the PKK, which bases itself in the remote mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. U.S. officials counter that it's more likely the weapons were smuggled across the border into Turkey after being stolen or lost during firefights with insurgents.

Either way, the Pentagon announced this week the establishment of two panels to investigate failures in the military contracting system that may have contributed to the weapons falling into the wrong hands. From the Times:

One panel of retired generals and civilian contracting experts, led by Jacques Gansler, a former top Pentagon acquisition official, will examine the Army contracting system and report back in 45 days how to improve its organization, staffing levels, auditing ability and other functions to prevent fraud, waste and abuse.
The second review, led by Lt. Gen. N. Ross Thompson III and Kathryn Condon, two Army contracting specialists, will examine current operations, Mr. Geren said. It will look for improprieties in the 18,000 contracts awarded from 2003 to 2007 by the Army's big contracting office in Kuwait. Those contracts to clothe, house and feed American forces moving in and out of Kuwait are valued at more than $3 billion.

In related news, the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies has released its annual "Small Arms Survey." The study found that civilians possess three times more weapons than are held by all the world's armies and police forces combined. Of the estimated 875 million small arms in existence, as many as 650 million belong to private citizens. Researchers contend that growing instability and violence of megacities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have contributed to civilians' growing desire to arm themselves. As reported by the BBC, gun-related deaths in Brazil's cities outnumber those of many countries at war.