Saturday, April 16, 2005

Bringing the Free Market to Iraq

They aren't even trying to hide it now:
Equipment plundered from dozens of sites in Saddam Hussein's vast complex for manufacturing weapons is beginning to surface in open markets in Iraq's major cities and at border crossings.

Looters stormed the sites two years ago when Mr. Hussein's government fell, and the fate of much of the equipment has remained a mystery.

But on a recent day near the Iranian border, resting in great chunks on a weedy lot in front of an Iraqi Border Patrol warehouse, were pieces of machine tools, some weighing as much as a car, that investigators say formed the heart of a factory that made artillery shells near Baghdad. Military equipment, including parts for obscure armaments used by Mr. Hussein's army, is also turning up in Baghdad and Mosul in the north, they say.

Interviews with people who identified themselves as arms dealers or members of the resistance in Baghdad, Falluja and other Iraqi cities indicate that a parallel black market operates in the explosives looted from some of the same sites. In fact, sketchy descriptions by members of the Iraqi resistance suggest that the arms market is also a highly developed enterprise with brokers, buyers and looters who have stockpiled their products, including artillery shells, mortar rounds and Kalashnikov rifles. One former Iraqi army officer who said that he had joined the mujahedeen said that in Sadr City, for example, a few trusted brokers would take prospective buyers to weapons caches that ranged in size from a few rounds buried in a garden to whole rooms of ordnance. If the broker and the buyers agreed on a price, the buyers would arrive a day or two later with a vehicle to drive their purchases away. The broker and the stockpilers would have worked out their respective cuts in advance.

Witnesses described looters of varying degrees of sophistication, from local people who stormed the sites in search of precious metals after Mr. Hussein's security forces fled to highly organized operations that arrived with cranes and semitrailer trucks. Some of the most organized groups arrived earliest and drove away with largely intact equipment.

When it comes to buying run-of-the-mill equipment and spare parts that were obviously looted in the past, the American military appears to have adopted some version of a don't-ask, don't-tell policy concerning where the materials originated. The materials, after all, are now being sold openly in street markets. So the Americans appear resigned to buying the equipment back rather than seizing it.
Well, I guess we can say that before the invasion, ordinary Iraqis were denied their right to bear arms; or arm bears; or to sell spare parts bac to us for our invastion. Or something. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, huh?

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