Most of us look at the war on Iraq as an appalling drain on the economy, but an article yesterday in USA Today reminds us that, for some companies, it means an expanded market. One aspect not mentioned in this article is how this influx of shiny
new American weapons could lead to a boost of Iraq’s black market trade
in weapons, which fuels sectarian violence as well as more everyday, generic violence. But first, from USA Today:
Iraq’s government has committed nearly $3 billion for U.S. weapons and equipment over the past year. "This is a substantial amount of money that they put on the table," said Joseph Benkert, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for global security affairs.
The increase in Iraqi arms and equipment purchases has helped makers of such U.S. military staples as the Humvee, the Pentagon’s workhorse vehicle, and the M-4 and M-16 rifles, military contract records show.
That puts Iraq among the top current purchasers of U.S. military equipment through the foreign military sales program, records show. Benkert said the deals are helping to cement the future relationship of Iraq to the United States.
The article quotes John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a military think tank:
The United States also continues to support Iraq’s security forces with U.S. tax dollars. The Pentagon budgeted $3 billion this fiscal year to equip and train Iraq’s security forces.
"Give it another five, six or eight years and you could be talking about deals that put the Saudis to shame," Pike said. The oil-rich Saudis have bought American fighters and armored vehicles worth billions of dollars.
Unfortunately, weapons that pass "legitimately" into the hands of Iraq’s police force don’t always stay put. This is from a report in Reuter’s in February 2007:
"I sold my Glock pistol and my bullet-proof vest for $1,500 so that
I can feed my family until I find a safer job. They were mine to sell,
after all I had risked my life and faced death," he told Reuters.
Anecdotal evidence, including interviews with arms dealers, suggests
that Abu Zaid is just one of many policemen selling the highly prized
pistol on the black market, already a shopper’s delight for buyers with
Everything from the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, the
biggest-selling item, to rocket-propelled grenade launchers, sniper
rifles and belt-fed medium machine guns are available, many looted from
huge arms dumps immediately after the 2003 war.
The polymer-framed 9mm Glock, with a capacity of 15 rounds, is
popular with police forces and armies around the world because of its
ease of use and reliability. It is now also standard issue for Iraq’s
325,000-strong security force.
A 2006 report by the Brookings Institution, a U.S. think tank, said
the flow of weapons from the Iraqi forces to the black market and into
the hands of militants had left U.S. commanders facing a dilemma.
They had to choose between properly equipping Iraqi security forces
and risk seeing the equipment disappear or giving them lower-quality
equipment that would "deprive them of the wherewithal to succeed" in
Tough choice. Well, maybe not when this deal is so darn lucrative.
The influence of the weapons industry over US foreign policy is no secret, and individual companies, like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, sometimes join forces to push for programs that could boost their revenues. The bad news is, programs that are good for the weapons industry are usually bad for the rest of us. Like Missile Defense, or the Merida Initiative. Or, the war in Iraq.
According to OpenSecrets.org, so far this year, the weapons industry lobby has contributed $13.7 million to political campaigns. And though their contributions and influence have risen throughout the Bush administration, more than half of their dollars go to Democrats. Sen. Clinton is their top recipient of campaign contributions this year, McCain third and Obama fourth.
Photo: USA Today, By Ceerwan Aziz, pool via AP