US urged to keep track of its Iraq arms supply

Sunday 28/05/2017
Where have all the weapons gone? Iraqi Army soldiers with new US-made weapons taking combat positions in an eastern suburb of Ramadi. (AP)

London - Amnesty International has called on the United States to keep track of the weapons it supplied to Iraq following confirma­tion by Washington that it could not account for $1 billion worth of arms and other military equipment hand­ed to Baghdad.

The revelation came after the rights group obtained a declassified US Department of Defence audit from September 2016 via a Freedom of Information request.

In its report, Amnesty Interna­tional said the United States “did not have accurate, up-to-date records on the quantity and location” of arms pouring into Kuwait and Iraq destined for use by the Iraqi Army, Shia militias and Kurdish peshmerga forces in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS).

“[This audit] makes for especially sobering reading given the long his­tory of leakage of US arms to multiple armed groups committing atrocities in Iraq, including the armed group calling itself the Islamic State,” Pat­rick Wilcken, Amnesty Internation­al’s arms control and human rights researcher, said in a statement.

The arms transfers include tens of thousands of assault rifles, hundreds of mortar rounds and hundreds of Humvee armoured vehicles, the rights group said.

“This should be an urgent wake-up call for the United States and all countries supplying arms to Iraq to urgently shore up checks and con­trols. Sending millions of dollars’ worth of arms into a black hole and hoping for the best is not a viable counterterrorism strategy; it is just reckless,” said Wilcken.

“Any state selling arms to Iraq must show that there are strict meas­ures in place to make sure the weap­ons will not be used to violate rights. Without these safeguards, no trans­fer should take place,” he added.

In a January report, Amnesty International accused Iraq’s Shia militias of “using arms from Iraqi military stockpiles, provided by the United States, Europe, Russia and Iran, to commit war crimes, revenge attacks and other atrocities.”

Observers said the rights viola­tions mar the campaign to destroy ISIS, which is gradually losing ground in the city of Mosul and oth­er areas in Iraq.

Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine recently reported that Iraqi forces were involved in the killing, torture and rape of ISIS suspects. The alle­gations were made by an Iraqi pho­tographer who said he witnessed the abuses while embedded with an Iraqi police unit in Mosul.

Photographs published by Der Spiegel prompted Iraq’s Interior Ministry to begin an investigation into human rights violations allega­tions. “Legal measures will be ap­plied… against wrongdoers,” min­istry spokesman Brigadier-General Saad Maan told the Associated Press (AP).

Brett McGurk, US envoy for the global coalition against ISIS, praised Iraqi security forces for having “bravely placed civilian protection as top priority” in Mosul but added to the AP that “individuals or units failing to uphold that standard… must be investigated and held ac­countable.”

Iraqi forces are gearing up for the final assault to dislodge ISIS from the small territory it still holds in the western half of Mosul. Iraqi offi­cials say the days of ISIS in Mosul are numbered as the militants control just 8% of western Mosul, which in­cludes the Old City.

The US-backed military campaign was launched in October and the city’s eastern half was declared lib­erated in January but the advance in the west was frequently slowed by ISIS’s resilience and the group’s holding of hundreds of thousands of civilians as human shields.

About 500,000 civilians have re­portedly fled western Mosul since February, with reports surfacing on the horrors of life under ISIS. The United Nations warned another 200,000 may be forced to flee.

In the rest of Iraq, a series of ISIS bombings in Baghdad and Basra killed at least 27 people. Troubles in Iraq, however, are not confined to ISIS.

“Once ISIS is defeated in Mosul, the greatest challenge to the Iraqi government is to reconcile the dif­ferences between the Shia-domi­nated government, the Sunnis out west and the Kurds to the north,” US Marine Corps Lieutenant-General Vincent Stewart, the head of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, said at a US Senate hearing.

Iraq’s Kurdish authorities said they planned to have a referendum in October on whether the semi-au­tonomous Kurdistan region would remain part of Iraq. “Kurdish inde­pendence is on a trajectory where it is probably not if but when and it will complicate the situation unless there’s an agreement in Baghdad,” Stewart said.

“Failure to address those challeng­es, coming up with a political solu­tion will ultimately result in conflict among all of the parties to resolve this and going back to what could devolve into a civil strife in Iraq,” he added.

The Kurdish-majority region, whose parliament has not convened since October 2015, is itself em­broiled in a power struggle by rival political groups and protests against corruption.

Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government since 2005, has remained in his post even after his second term ended in 2013 and was subsequently extend­ed by parliament until August 2015.