American arms and security transfers to Iraq are now larger than US funding for reconstruction in the country, according to a newly released report that profiles US arms exports around the world.
Iraq was the fourth-highest recipient of US arms transfers during 2006-2007, according to the New America Foundation (NAF) study entitled "US Weapons at War 2008: Beyond the Bush Legacy," authored by NAF's William Hartung and Frida Berrigan.
Hartung and Berrigan write that the United States is by far the global leader in arms exports, accounting for more than 45 percent of global arms sales in 2007, and the world's largest provider of security assistance, which includes training and grants for further arms purchases.
The NAF report seeks to call attention not only to the sheer volume of American arms transfers, but also to the end uses of the weapons in the recipient countries. In the executive summary, the authors write:
A new policy should not seek to reduce arms transfers as a goal in and of itself, but rather to strike a balance between short-term political and military considerations and long-term U.S. interests in peace and stability. In many cases, seeking to enhance the role of human rights and conflict prevention in U.S. arms transfer policy will involve complex trade-offs, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, where massive "train and equip" programs are central to the goal of reducing the direct U.S. military presence in those nations, although the new military and police forces in those nations have far to go in meeting basic human rights standards.
While the sheer volume of U.S. arms transfers is a matter of concern, the real question is how these weapons end up being used. Are U.S.-supplied arms and training helping fledgling democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide for their own security in ways that can reduce the need for American "boots on the ground?" Do U.S. weapons exports to potential adversaries like India and Pakistan or Turkey and Iraq increase the likelihood of local and regional conflict? Are adequate measures being taken to ensure that the accelerating flow of U.S. weaponry onto the global market is not being diverted into the hands of anti-U.S. forces? These are the kinds of questions that should be addressed by any new arms transfer policy.
The full report, which can be read here, includes country-specific analysis. The Iraq section, which can be accessed here, includes the following table summarizing what NAF's authors say is the incomplete data available on American arms transfers to Iraq.
NAF notes that the budget for arms transfers to Iraq now exceeds funding allocated for reconstruction activities in the country, and adds the following remarks:
While the logic of increasing U.S. arms transfers to Iraq in conjunction with a reduction in the U.S. military presence there seems unimpeachable, there are several nagging questions that need to be addressed. The first involves accountability for U.S. weapons that are designed to reach Iraqi government forces. As of mid-2008, according to Amnesty International, more than 360,000 of the over one million pistols and automatic weapons provided by the United States to Iraq had not been adequately accounted for, the assumption being that many of them may have been diverted to antigovernment insurgents or illegally transferred to other nations in exchange for cash. The New York Times reported in November 2007 that the U.S. contractor Lee Dynamics had partnered with an Iraqi businessman who was alleged by co-workers to have “turned the armory into his own private arms bazaar with the seeming approval of some American officials and executives, selling AK-47 assault rifles, Glock pistols and heavy machine guns to anyone with cash in hand—Iraqi militias, South African security guards, and even American contractors.” Until better mechanisms are established for tracking and securing U.S. weapons supplies to Iraq, it may make sense to moderate the flow of new transfers, particularly of highly portable small arms and light weapons.
The increase in U.S. arms supplies to Iraq also gives rise to the question of how the weapons may be used once the United States either leaves Iraq or dramatically reduces its military presence there. While the much discussed “Sunni Awakening” has clearly been a major factor in the reduction of violence in Iraq during 2007/08, the Sunni militias, which have been trained and armed by the United States, could end up undermining recent progress in Iraq if they were to turn their arms on Shiite forces inside and outside the Iraqi government. One of the many conundrums of the arms trade is the fact that it is often difficult to control how weapons are utilized once they have been transferred to an ally of the moment. The possibility of future internal strife in Iraq should serve as a cautionary note in determining both the volume and the types of U.S. weaponry supplied to factions within the country.
Read the full report here.