From todays New York Times:
BAGHDAD — An $833 million Iraqi arms deal secretly negotiated with Serbia has underscored Iraq’s continuing problems equipping its armed forces, a process that has long been plagued by corruption and inefficiency.Iraq's defense minister, Abdul Qadir, defended the deal, insisting that Prime Minister al-Maliki had been kept abreast of the deal every step of the way; as if corruption ceases to be corruption if it is sanctioned at a high enough level.
The deal was struck in September without competitive bidding and it sidestepped anticorruption safeguards, including the approval of senior uniformed Iraqi Army officers and an Iraqi contract approval committee. Instead, it was negotiated by a delegation of 22 high-ranking Iraqi officials, without the knowledge of American commanders or many senior Iraqi leaders.
The deal drew enough criticism that Iraqi officials later limited the purchase to $236 million. And much of that equipment, American commanders said, turned out to be either shoddy or inappropriate for the military’s mission.
An anatomy of the purchase highlights how the Iraqi Army’s administrative abilities — already hampered by sectarian rifts and corruption — are woefully underdeveloped, hindering it in procuring weapons and other essentials in a systematic way. It also shows how an American procurement process set up to help foreign countries navigate the complexity of buying weapons was too slow and unwieldy for wartime needs like Iraq’s, prompting the Iraqis to strike out on their own.
Such weaknesses mean that five years after the American invasion, the 170,000-strong Iraqi military remains under-equipped, spottily supplied and largely reliant on the United States for such basics as communications equipment, weapons and ammunition, raising fresh questions about the Iraqi military’s ability to stand on its own.
The Serbian arms deal faced serious criticism from Iraqi and American officials alike, even though scrutiny of the procurement process has been a touchy subject, following specious arms deals that saw cash paid for shoddy equipment in the early days of post Saddam Iraq. (Remember, David Petraeus, before he was the top general, was an administrative officer who lost track of a pallet of cash - a billion dollars! Missing! Specious arms deals brought down the Allawi government and the previous defense minister, Hazam Shalan.
Shalan is now a fugitive from justice, wanted on charges stemming from the heady days of duffel bags full of hundreds ferried around the country by middle men and sweetheart deals that padded pockets but delivered nothing in return.
People who remember the earlier deal are nervous about the Serbian deal, even though no specific charges have been leveled. After all, a lack of oversight and transparency never turns out well.
The deal with Serbia calls for purchasing large numbers of planes, helicopters, personnel transports, and heavy arms, as well as light arms, body armor, uniforms and other equipment. The deal was negotiated by Mr. Qadir and an aide. After attention began to be cast toward the arrangement, Mr. Qadir "froze" the number of planes and choppers, reducing the dollar value of the deal from $833 million to $236 million dollars. “We just want to have a mix of procedures for contracts so we can expedite our acquisition,” Mr. Qadir said, adding that “American timelines for delivery were too far away.”
Read the whole thing. You'll be shaking your head in amazement...