Iraq Allowed to Rearm: Critics Say Embargo Lift May Worsen Iraq's Security Problems

Article excerpt

Iraq, once restrained by some of the severest military sanctions, can now buy its own weapons thanks to a little-publicized provision of the United Nations Security Council that lifted a 14-year arms embargo on the country. The provision is included in a U.N. resolution, unanimously passed last June, legitimizing the new Iraqi interim government.

The removal of the arms embargo, instituted to enable Iraq to refurbish its arsenal and take responsibility for its security needs, has turned the formerly weapons-deprived country into a seller's market for defense contractors. It has also drawn criticism from some analysts who question the wisdom of rearming a politically unstable country still occupied by the world's largest military power.

"How much of this is a photo op? A way to whitewash the occupation by showing the world that we are allowing Iraq to rebuild its army? Any new [Iraqi] security force would still remain under U.S. control," said Frida Berrigan, a senior research associate with the Arms Trade Resource Center, a project of the World Policy Institute.

The new U.N. provision is a formality. Iraq has technically been open to the arms trade since May 2003 when the country came under the governance of the Coalition Provisional Authority. According to the Asia Times, over the past year Iraq has purchased 50,000 handguns from the Austrian company Glock, 421 UAZ Hunter jeeps from Russia, "millions of dollars worth of armored cars from Brazil and Ukraine, along with AK-47 assault rifles, 9 mm pistols, military vehicles, fire control equipment and night vision devices."

Asia Times also reported that the Coalition Provisional Authority, shortly before its transfer of power to the Iraqi interim government, negotiated contracts for six C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft, 16 Iroquois helicopters and a squadron of 16 low-flying, light reconnaissance aircraft, to be delivered by April 2005.

Lockheed Martin, the world's largest arms exporter, manufactures the C-130. An ironic detail of the Iraq purchase is that Lockheed Martin products were used during U.S. bombing campaigns of the first Gulf War, which destroyed much of Iraq's air force. Cynical though it may be for a company to sell military aircraft to a country after it made a profit building the weapons that destroyed its aircraft, the practice is commonplace, according to Chatap Pratterjee, an investigative journalist for the online publication CorpWatch. "Weapons manufacturers will sell to anybody unless there is an arms embargo," he said.

Free to buy, Iraq is unable to pay for its military hardware and currently relies on U.S. military aid. Congress has appropriated a little less than $3 billion for Iraq's security needs, $2 billion of which are earmarked for developing the country's new army, according to the report in the The National Interest.

Chris Toensig, editor of the quarterly Middle East Report, said American funding of Iraqi weaponry is a continuation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. "The U.S. has been a large arms supplier in the region. This is one of the linchpins of strategic relationships--a way of trying to make sure the Iraq government remains dependent on the U.S.," he said.

Several analysts pointed out that Iraq's lack of independent purchasing power has translated into a bias towards American companies for arms deals.

"U.S. defense contractors consider the Iraqi military contracts their domain. The Glock deal was an anomaly and some people were upset by it. The sentiment expressed by some members of the American Congress was, 'How could an American company not get it?' " said Berrigan.

"Obviously countries and defense industries are excited about lifting an arms embargo," said Rachel Stohl, a researcher with the Center for Defense Information. "But the policy is problematic because there has been no thorough inventory of Iraq's arsenals."

Iraq is "awash in light weaponry," Stohl said. …