For Sale, Cheap: Saddam's Army Scraps

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Birch, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

IRBIL, Iraq - Interested in buying a piece of Saddam Hussein's old army at a closeout price? Visit Kamal Jalal's scrap yard just south of the Kurdish city of Irbil.

It might not look like much from the road - a few piles of twisted metal in an ugly wasteland made white by nearby gypsum mines.

But from close up, you can easily distinguish the hulks of a dozen old Iraqi tanks and armored cars. A Russian-made MiG fighter lies on its side amid the chaos, its cockpit gone but control panel intact.

The MiG looks forlorn without its wings, which stand 60 feet away, propped grotesquely against a couple of empty oil drums.

"We started to break this thing up four months ago, but stopped when the ejector seat shot out and killed one of the workers," Mr. Jalal says. "We've been a bit nervous about touching it ever since."

He and his colleagues will get back to it, though.

"That plane set me back $12,000," Mr. Jalal says. "You don't really think I'm just going to let it lie there and rot."

The tanks and armored cars, made of steel rather than the MiG's lightweight aluminum, come much cheaper.

"We buy the tanks from old Iraqi military bases down in Kirkuk and Mosul for $800," says Mr. Jalal's partner, Nizar Abullah, 19. "Each one makes us $100 profit."

Since the end of the war last year, Iraqi Kurds have been snapping up newly available foreign goods. Items as varied as refrigerators and pasteurized cream flood across the eastern border from Iran, while Turkey, to the north, provides goods, including plastic window frames and bomb-resistant concrete blocks.

The Iraqis have to little to offer in return apart from the remnants of Saddam's armies. And they offer these in a seemingly unending flow into Turkey and Iran.

A five-hour truck drive east of Mr. Jalal's scrap yard, officials at the Bashmakh border crossing with Iran say an average of 30 trucks loaded with scrap have crossed the border daily for more than a year.

"At that rate, we should have enough military junk to last us 20 years," jokes customs officer Riyadgar Abdulrahman. "All Saddam spent his money on was tanks and bombs. …