Weapons that were originally given to Iraqi security forces by the American military have been recovered over the past year by the authorities in Turkey after being used in violent crimes in that country, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
The discovery that serial numbers on pistols and other weapons recovered in Turkey matched those distributed to Iraqi police units has prompted growing concern by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that controls on weapons being provided to Iraqis are inadequate. It was also a factor in the decision to dispatch the department’s inspector general to Iraq next week to investigate the problem, the officials said.
Pentagon officials said they did not yet have evidence that Iraqi security forces or Kurdish officials were selling or giving the weapons to Kurdish separatists, as Turkish officials have contended.
It was possible, they said, that the weapons had been stolen or lost during firefights and smuggled into Turkey after being sold in Iraq’s extensive black market for firearms. Officials gave widely varied estimates — from dozens to hundreds — of how many American-supplied weapons had been found in Turkey.
Over the past year, inquiries by federal oversight agencies have found serious discrepancies in military records of where thousands of weapons intended for Iraqi security forces actually ended up.
The disclosure of the weapons in Turkey, part of those investigations, came on the same day that the Army announced moves aimed at addressing a widening contracting scandal that has generated 76 criminal investigations involving contract fraud in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan. Twenty civilians and military personnel have been charged in federal court as a result of the inquiries.
“The reports suggest we have serious issues in this area,” Army Secretary Pete Geren told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the criminal inquiries and the reported diversion of Iraqi weapons to Turkey were major reasons behind his decision to take action now.
Gates sent the Pentagon general counsel, William J. Haynes II, to Turkey last month for talks with Turkish officials, who had been complaining for months that American-supplied weapons were being used in murders and other violent crimes carried out, in some cases, by Kurdish militants.
Turkey’s allegations that Iraq was being used as a sanctuary to mount attacks inside its country have strained relations between the Bush administration and Ankara over the past six months, with Turkey not ruling out a military intervention into northern Iraq to stop the activity.
American officials said that it appeared that the weapons found in Turkey had been given to Iraqi units in 2004 and 2005 when, in the rush to build police and Army units, controls on distribution of firearms had been much weaker. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was then in charge of training and equipping Iraqi forces and who is now the top American commander in Iraq, has said that the imperative to provide weapons to Iraqi security forces was more important at the time than maintaining impeccable records.