How U.S. Weapons Fall Into the Hands of Terrorists

The perils of shipping arms to Iraq and Syria

How corrupt is Iraq's military? "One general is known as 'chicken guy' because of his reputation for selling his soldiers’ poultry provisions," David Kirkpatrick reports in The New York Times. "Another is 'arak guy,' for his habit of enjoying that anis-flavored liquor on the job. A third is named after Iraq's 10,000-dinar bills, 'General Deftar,' and is infamous for selling officer commissions." This is the force that George W. Bush kept U.S. troops in Iraq to train. It is the force that President Obama has been relying on to contain ISIS fighters. And it is a force that is substantially responsible for the ability of ISIS to get weapons:

The United States has insisted that the Iraqi military act as the conduit for any new aid and armaments being supplied for a counteroffensive, including money and weapons intended for tribal fighters willing to push out the Islamic State. In its 2015 budget, the Pentagon has requested $1.3 billion to provide weapons for the government forces and $24.1 million intended for the tribes.

But some of the weaponry recently supplied by the army has already ended up on the black market and in the hands of Islamic State fighters, according to Iraqi officers and lawmakers. American officials directed questions to the Iraqi government. “I told the Americans, don’t give any weapons through the army—not even one piece—because corruption is everywhere, and you will not see any of it,” said Col. Shaaban al-Obeidi of the internal security forces, also a Sunni tribal leader in Anbar Province. “Our people will steal it.”

The New York Times article focuses on how corruption in the Iraqi army poses a significant and perhaps fatal obstacle to the Obama administration's ongoing intervention in that country. But news that weapons are flowing from the U.S. to the Iraqi army to ISIS fighters is also yet another reason to doubt the strategy for opposing ISIS in Syria that politicians like Hillary Clinton, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio long ago embraced.

Think about it.

During a decade of war in Iraq, the U.S. government gained a lot of institutional knowledge about the country and its army. America's intelligence gathering there was comparatively sophisticated. Lots of American diplomats gained expertise on the ground. And U.S. forces trained, advised, or fought beside many of the men in the army. Despite all this, the United States has been unable to funnel weapons through Iraq without ISIS getting them. So in Syria, where the U.S. has inferior knowledge and intelligence gathering, was it ever plausible for Washington to identify  and arm "moderate rebels" without a much greater risk of ISIS getting ahold of the weapons?

I think not. But that's the strategy that Clinton, Graham, Rubio, and other hawks proposed. Even now, despite seeing ISIS get weapons sent to Iraq, these politicians maintain that we'd have been better off if only Obama had armed the Syrian rebels.