Saturday, November 03, 2007

Things are still slowly getting better

Here's one of the many reasons things are going so slowly- U.S. contracting processes.

Iraq says US behind in arms deliveries
Only a fraction of $2b order has been filled
By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff
November 3, 2007

WASHINGTON - More than a year after the government of Iraq paid more than $2 billion to the US government to purchase weapons and equipment for their military and police force, most of the equipment has yet to be delivered, slowing the ability of Iraqi units to take greater responsibility for their country's security, according to Iraqi officials.

In October 2006, Iraq obtained congressional approval to purchase 50,750 M16 rifles and 24 King Air reconnaissance aircraft, among other items. But so far, just 7,000 of the rifles and none of the aircraft have been delivered, according to a US Department of Defense spokesman. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has said that the US government delivered about $600 million worth of military equipment to the Iraqis, and that between $2 billion and $3 billion in supplies are still on order.

Pentagon officials say that large orders take time and that the US military has large orders pending, which adds to the manufacturing backlog. But Iraqi officials have expressed frustration over the delays.

"We need to make sure [our security forces] have weapons, vehicles, communications devices," Maamoon Sami Rasheed, the governor of Anbar Province, said yesterday as he visited Washington, D.C., with a group of Iraqi officials for a State Department leadership program.

He said new police and army recruits in Anbar have recently joined the United States in fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq, but they lack the necessary equipment to do their jobs. Some members of Anbar's 21,000-member police force, he said, have been relegated to using personal weapons. He added that other provinces in Iraq have similar shortages.

In July, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaida'ie, complained bitterly about the delays, saying, "Americans are fully protected with the latest equipment and we are just cannon fodder."

Senior US military commanders in Iraq and several key senators have faulted bureaucratic delays in the US government's Foreign Military Sales program, under which the US military serves as a middleman between foreign governments and the US companies that are contracted to produce the weapons. Gates has said that the program was not designed for emergency situations like the war in Iraq.

Citing the delays, Senators John Warner, a Virginia Republican, and Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat, asked for an overhaul of the program in a September letter to Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"During our visit to Iraq last month, we were informed by US military commanders of problems in the US bureaucracy that are hindering the delivery of badly needed military equipment for Iraqi forces purchased with Iraqi funds," they wrote.

It has taken an average of 250 days to deliver an item after receiving an Iraqi request, according to the letter, but military officials are trying to cut that time to 125 days.

"From our perspective, this is still too long," wrote the two senators, who are the leading members of their parties on the Senate Armed Services Committee. A spokesman for Warner said this week that he has not received a reply.

A spokesman for Colt Defense, the West Hartford-based military supplier that has a contract for the M16 rifles, declined to comment. A group of Iraqi generals toured the Colt factory this summer to observe production of the rifles, according to a Department of Defense official.

A report issued in September by the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, headed by retired General James L. Jones, said that the Iraqi security forces "suffer persistent shortfalls in vital equipment" and are killed at three times the rate of Coalition forces because they lack the armor and weaponry to fight against heavily armed terrorist groups.

In the first years after the 2003 US-led invasion, the US government gave weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and body armor to Iraq's fledgling forces. But some in Congress say those transfers took place too quickly and that the US and Iraqi governments did such a poor job of keeping track of the items that many have disappeared.

Starting in 2005, Iraq's government became eligible to purchase its own weaponry through the Foreign Military Sales program, and last year submitted its first major orders. Pentagon reports say that Iraq committed $1.72 billion in 2006 and $1.6 billion in 2007 to purchasing US weapons systems and equipment through the program.

The weapons purchases are a key step toward Iraqi self-sufficiency. US officials tout that Iraq is now spending more than twice as much as the United States to equip the Iraqi military and police.

US officials acknowledge that the purchasing process is laborious, requiring that Congress be notified and given a 30-day waiting period to object to major military sales. Then a complex bidding process begins. Finally, after contracts are issued, the goods must be manufactured and delivered to the US government, which ships them to Iraq.

Yesterday, Lieutenant Colonel Karen Finn, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the US military is working hard to resolve issues with the Iraqi government.

"We agree that the current process is not as swift as we would like," she said.

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

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