Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Riddle of Chech Body Armor Found with Iraqi Insurgents

Riddle solved . . . . Iraq security forces under suspicion after Prague says equipment was legally supplied to police.

The Sunday Herald reports:
Hundreds OF Iraqi insurgents killed or captured in battle by American-led coalition forces have been found to be wearing state-of-the-art Czech-manufactured body armour. The latest findings have added to mounting concern about the quantity and sophistication of military equipment reaching Islamist fighters, sectarian death squads and al-Qaeda terror gangs inside Iraq.

The riddle of the provenance of the Czech body armour highlights the very thin dividing line between legal and smuggled arms and other war materiel sloshing around in Iraq. According to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research organisation, seven million unauthorised guns are now in civilians' hands in a country of 27 million.

For months the US military command in Iraq has suspected that illegal shipments of Czech-made body armour and other equipment have been reaching rebels in increasing quantities.
US Army and FBI investigators probing how the Czech flak jackets came into the hands of Iraqi insurgents compiled an impressive dossier, complete with the serial numbers of vests seized from radicals. Then they turned to Prague for help to uncover the Czech end of the presumed smuggling ring.

Last week, Pavla Kopecka, a spokeswoman for the Czech police headquarters, confirmed America's request for help in the investigation.

"We have received information from the Americans about the fact that Czech-made body armour has been found in the hands of rebels in Iraq. We also received a request to investigate how these vests got to the Iraqi insurgents."

The consignment of 6000 flak jackets had been manufactured by a Czech defence department-approved firm in Jevicko, northwest Moravia, and legally exported to Baghdad, Kopecka said.

The real surprise of the Prague investigation, carried out by the Czech organised crime squad, was that the vests had been legally supplied to the Iraqi police at a cost of $2.7million (£1.33m).

It was, the Czech police spokeswoman emphasised, the first instance of legally exported Czech military supplies ending up in the wrong hands in Iraq."Everything in this case was absolutely legal and in accordance with Czech laws. We had not come across any problems with our own or international laws."

Kopecka added: "The problems occurred in Iraq. I could only speculate as to how the body armour delivered to the Iraqi police reached the insurgents."

The stark and unpalatable truth facing the Americans is that Iraq's police force, infiltrated by Shia militias, death squads and al-Qaeda-linked radicals, must have handed over weapons and protective vests to insurgents.

Recently, hundreds of state-of-the-art high-velocity Austrian sniper rifles exported to Iran were found in the hands of Shia insurgents in Iraq. An investigation in Vienna revealed that these formed part of a consignment of 800 specialist rifles legally supplied to the Tehran police drug squad.

The US defence department this summer estimated that some 190,000 American weapons supplied to the Iraqi security forces "have gone missing". This helps explain, in part, how easily legal weapons become illegal guns in Iraq. It appears that one in every 25 weapons supplied by the Americans to the Iraqi security forces have ended up in the hands of insurgents.

And that will not make it any easier to withdraw some of the troops now boosting America's "surge" in Iraq.

The Czechs' vindication in the Iraqi body armour affair and their police's insistence that no illegal shipments of any Czech military materiel had taken place to Iraq does not, however, exonerate their dealings in the world's arms bazaar.

The Czech government's annual report on arms exports has drawn criticism from Amnesty International. The international human rights group accused Prague of exporting weapons to counties which violate human rights, and drew attention to the fact that there were no guarantees that Czech weapons would not end up in a third country trying to outfox a United Nations arms embargo.

Amnesty's criticism has upset Prague. Vaclav Balek, head of the foreign ministry's security policy department, said: "I find this criticism unfair because we are quite open and we do publish all the information possible. In the process of granting a licence we have to take into consideration various factors and one of these is the commitment of Czech exporters."

He added: "If we are talking about tricky' countries, such as Ethiopia or Nigeria, I have to make clear that the exports in question are exports of spare parts for military equipment exported in the past. In particular, we are talking about spare parts for trainer aircraft."

O, to know then what we know now, that the 'insurgents' are, more accurately, 'counter-insurgents'; Iraqis, fighting the real insurgents, us, the occupying U.S. military.

Wait a minute, we did know:
...Gen Shinseki told a congressional committee that he thought an occupying force in the hundreds of thousands would be required to police postwar Iraq. Mr Rumsfeld publicly repudiated him, saying he was "far off the mark".

In semi-private, the Pentagon's civilian leadership was far more scathing. A "senior administration official" told the Village Voice newspaper that Gen Shinseki's remark was "bullshit from a Clintonite enamoured of using the army for peacekeeping and not winning wars".

Then the general said it again. "It could be as high as several hundred thousand," he told another committee. "We all hope it is something less." Most of the media were too distracted by the build-up to war to notice. Serious analysts, however, were staggered by the insubordination.

This appears to have been round two of another, more immediately relevant, dispute about how many troops are needed to win this war. In this case, the military prevailed over the original civilian notion that fewer than 100,000 could do it. As even more soldiers rush to the Gulf to bring the number closer to 300,000, the original Rumsfeld plan looks in hindsight to be what the army said at the time: a recipe for possible catastrophe.

The full reality on the ground may not become known until Saddam Hussein has fallen, but no one can now seriously believe - as many top Pentagon civilians appear to have done a week ago - that the main problem for an occupying force will be what to do with all the floral gifts.

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