A damning new report by Amnesty International has named the USA as the primary nation culpable for indirectly arming the Islamic State, drawing the conclusion that the Pentagon is at least partly responsible for the terrorist group’s conception, growth and subsequent reign of terror in the Middle East.
ISIS have acquired many weapons through illegal trading with unknown countries and arms dealers, but the vast majority of their current arsenal was stolen from Iraq. Amnesty claims that this was only made possible by a series of systematic failures and incompetencies by the USA in the aftermath of the 2003 Iraq invasion.
The report states:
‘US-led forces failed to act decisively to prevent human rights abuses, control stockpiles, disarm Iraqi soldiers when the armed forces were disbanded, and safeguard against arms surpluses and imports getting into the hands of militias working as death squads or insurgents. This was compounded by a failure to adequately vet, monitor, train and hold to account the various Iraqi security forces in a manner consistent with international human rights and humanitarian law.’
The report quotes Army General John Abizaid, Commander of the US Central Command, who testified this before the US Senate in September 2003:
“There is more ammunition in Iraq than any place I’ve ever been in my life, and it’s not securable. I wish I could tell you that we had it all under control. We don’t. There are certainly not enough forces anywhere to guard the ammunition in Iraq.”
Yet despite Abizaid’s stark warning 12 years ago, nothing has changed.
This shocking Amnesty International investigation reveals: ‘Between 2003 to 2007, the USA and other coalition members transferred more than one million weapons to the Iraqi armed forces. This was ‘infantry weapons and pistols with millions of rounds of ammunition to the Iraqi armed forces, despite the fact that the army was poorly structured, corrupt and ill-disciplined. Hundreds of thousands of those weapons went missing and are still unaccounted for.’
Rather than take General Abizaid’s 2003 testimony as a wake-up call, the USA chose to ignore him and ship more weapons and tanks to Iraq. The total military expenditure increased from $614 million in 2004 to over $9.5 billion in 2014.
In 2008, there was an attempt to tighten US Department of Defense rules regarding subcontracting. Some vital measures were put in place to control the export and transfer of weapons into Iraq, but in 2014, the Pentagon was granted permission by Congress to waive these regulations and continue its arms transfers to Iraq. By 2014, the USA had delivered over $500 million dollars’ worth of small arms and ammunition to the Iraqi Government.
‘During the invasion and its aftermath, the US-led coalition’s decision to disband the Iraqi army, estimated at around 400,000 personnel, meant that many tens of thousands of individuals returned home or went into hiding with their weapons. In addition, Iraqi civilians and armed groups that emerged following the US invasion looted Iraqi military and police weapons caches as coalition forces struggled to maintain effective control of military stocks.’
‘Mistakes made during the US-led occupation led to the mass proliferation of small arms and light weapons which are feeding the conflict to this day. The quantity and range of IS stocks of arms and ammunition ultimately reflect decades of irresponsible arms transfers to Iraq and multiple failures by the US-led occupation administration to manage arms deliveries and stocks securely.’
‘ISIS has also gained access to weapons from other sources – notably capture or sale of Syrian military stocks and arms supplied to armed opposition groups in Syria by countries including Turkey, the Gulf States, and the USA.’
“The vast and varied weaponry being used by the armed group calling itself Islamic State is a textbook case of how reckless arms trading fuels atrocities on a massive scale,” said Patrick Wilcken, the researcher on arms control, security trade and human rights at Amnesty International, in a statement.
This report is a public relations disaster for the Pentagon, and not only because of it reveals the USA’s terrible incompetencies. Amnesty International actually hints that ISIS simply wouldn’t exist at all if it weren’t for the disastrous 2003 Iraq war, during which terrible human rights abuses against Iraqi civilians and inside Abu Ghraib prison sparked a radical uprising against what were seen as the Western oppressors. They state:
‘Following the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent fall of President Saddam Hussein, a number of insurgent armed groups composed largely of Sunni men emerged in opposition to the occupying forces and the Shi’a-dominated Iraqi government. The Al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad group, set up by Jordanian national Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi in 2002, became a major force in the insurgency after declaring allegiance to al-Qa’ida and establishing al-Qa’ida in Iraq. After Abu Mussab al- Zarqawi was killed in a US air strike in 2006, al-Qa’ida in Iraq renamed itself Islamic State in Iraq.’
The USA is undoubtedly at fault, and must now do what it can to limit the damage caused by past mistakes and hold those responsible to account. However, the blame lies with the global arms trade in general: Amnesty International estimate that ISIS are using weapons made by no fewer than 30 different countries, including America’s allies Britain, Germany, and the Gulf States. Other countries that have indirectly armed the Islamic State include Italy, South Africa, the Balkans (Eastern European countries), Russia, Croatia, Belgium, China, and Austria.
As for black market arms trading, the investigation has uncovered ‘an illicit trade of weapons, ammunition and dual-use goods (civilian goods that may have military applications) over the Turkish border.’ They reveal that:
‘On 29 May 2015, the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet published photos and video footage of what it alleged was a convoy of trucks, leased by the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation (MIT), carrying arms for rebel groups in Syria in January 2015. According to the report, the convoy was stopped and inspected by Turkish officials and was said to be carrying 1,000 mortars, 1,000 shells, 50,000 machine gun cartridges and 30,000 heavy machine gun cartridges, hidden under medical supplies. Turkish President Erdoğan and Prime Minister Davutoğlu denied that the trucks contained arms, claiming that they were carrying aid for people of Turkish decent in Syria.’
If Turkey’s President Erdogan, a strong ally to the West, is truly selling arms to the Islamic State, it will be the second ISIS-related bombshell in less than a month: he was recently accused of buying oil from the terrorist organization. It seems we in the West might want to re-think some of our cosy friendships.
In summary, the report backs up what most of us figured out a long time ago: you can’t possibly stop global terrorism if you’re not willing to stop selling arms to whichever psychotic group or government offers you good money. The politicians in the USA, the UK, Germany, and France who wax lyrical about the ‘moral’ reasons for going to war against the Islamic State in Syria should take a long hard look at the Amnesty report, and treat arms regulation as matter of urgency. Until the arms trade is kept in check, the bombs we are now dropping will have little effect.
‘This catastrophe is another wake-up call,’ Amnesty concludes. ‘All states must take a long view and conduct much deeper institutional risk assessments for arms export decisions and act with much greater precaution and restraint when transferring and managing arms.’
First published here on December 14, 2015