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Thursday, July 18, 2024

We have met the enemy and…

America's ever-growing enemies list in the multiple wars of Iraq grew again this week when yet another culprit was officially identified.

America’s ever-growing enemies list in the multiple wars of Iraq grew again this week when yet another culprit was officially identified.

For years, the list of enemies targeting U.S. troops in Iraq has included Sunni insurgents, Shiite militia and, more recently, a group that calls itself al Qaeda of Mesopotamia. The enemies list in Iraq also includes outsiders such as Iran and Syria, who President Bush and Vice President Cheney have blamed for providing those combatant enemies with weapons that are used to kill U.S. troops in Iraq. Now there is one more, according to infuriating new intelligence that came not from the CIA nor the National Security Agency, but the GAO.

An investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified a new culprit who has been shipping into Iraq massive numbers of weapons that U.S. officials now fear are being used to kill American troops. The probe reached a conclusion first enunciated decades ago, in another era and another context, by comic-strip legend Walt Kelly’s possum pundit Pogo: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

In this case: It is our Pentagon.

The Defense Department has no clue about what happened to at least 190,000 guns — 110,000 AK47s and 80,000 pistols — that it gave Iraqi security forces in 2004 and 2005, according to a GAO report released Monday. And U.S. officials now concede that at least some of the missing weapons are now being used to kill American troops.

“One senior Pentagon official acknowledged that some of the weapons probably are being used against U.S. forces,” The Washington Post reported Monday. “He cited the Iraqi brigade created at Fallujah that quickly dissolved in September 2004 and turned its weapons against the Americans.”

The statistics are both shocking and enraging. They provide a paint-by-numbers picture of a willful dysfunctionality that may be without parallel in modern warfare. The Pentagon cannot account for 110,000 of the 185,000 AK47 rifles it gave the Iraqis; 80,000 of the 170,000 pistols; 135,000 of the 215,000 items of body armor; 115,000 of the 140,000 helmets.

According to the GAO, these security-assistance programs are traditionally overseen by the State Department. But during the reign of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his department insisted it could provide the flexibility that could best do the job. Those were the days when nobody said no to Rummy, so it came to pass.

But the GAO report chronicled haphazard and often nonexistent property-accounting procedures as the Pentagon rushed to create, arm and equip Iraqi security forces. Pentagon officials told GAO investigators they didn’t have enough personnel to keep track of the weapons they were handing out in Iraq and that their computers were inadequate for the task. Defense officials didn’t create central records to track the weapons until December 2005.

Responsibility for the massive failure of accountability lies with the general in charge of creating and equipping the Iraqi security forces. It was Gen. David Petraeus, who is now in command of the entire U.S. military effort in Iraq. Petraeus, who until this finding has always enjoyed an excellent reputation in military circles, will be providing that much-awaited Sept. 15 report on the status of the U.S. military effort in Iraq.

The GAO report of the Pentagon’s failure to account for the weapons reads like a classic in witless bureaucracy. “During our review, DOD officials expressed differing opinions about whether DOD regulations applied to the train-and-equip program for Iraq,” the report said. The officials were unable to decide which set of procedures applied to their mission — so they basically used none of them and got no guidance from superiors. As of last month, the report said, defense officials still had not identified which set of procedures to use.

No wonder the final two recommendations in the GAO report are so pathetically obvious that, written in officialese, they could pass for comic-strip satire. Hardly “Pogo,” but maybe “Doonesbury Meets Stephen Colbert”: “Determine which DOD accountability procedures apply or should apply to the program. After defining the required accountability procedures, ensure that sufficient staff, functioning distribution networks, standard operating procedures and proper technology are available to meet the new requirements.”

But the bottom line is no laughing matter. It is tragically infuriating and sadly ironic. This was a war that began to go badly when the Bush administration disbanded the Iraqi army but never thought to guard that army’s arsenals, which were looted for later use against our troops by insurgents and militia.

Now this. We may never know how many of our courageous men and women fighting in Iraq were killed or maimed by unfriendly fire from friendly weapons, guns that were made in, and supplied by, the U.S.A.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)

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