February 14, 2007

It Was The One-Armed Arms Dealer

The capture of more than a hundred sniper rifles in Iraq that had previously been sold to Iranian police agencies had the manufacturer backpedaling yesterday. The London Telegraph reports that the Austrian government and the Steyr corporation both denied any responsibility or knowledge of an arms transfer from Teheran to Iraqi insurgents:

Austria yesterday washed its hands of any responsibility after it was revealed that powerful sniper rifles it sold to Iran had been acquired by insurgents in Iraq.

The Daily Telegraph revealed yesterday that American troops had recovered more than 100 Steyr HS50 Mannlicher rifles, part of a consignment of 800 sold to Iran by Austria last year, during a series of raids in Iraq.

Astrid Harz, a spokesman for the Austrian foreign ministry, said yesterday that the sale had been "checked very thoroughly" and what happened to the rifles after they were delivered to Teheran ostensibly for use by border police was not the responsibility of her government. It was the responsibility of the Iranians, she said.

Franz Holzschuh, Steyr's chief executive, said the company had not been contacted by anyone officially to verify the serial numbers on the rifles. He said it was possibile that the weapons were copies.

In other words, the Austrians now say that the weapons are copies. And if they're not copies, then they have no idea how the weapons wound up in Iraq. Oh, except for the fact that they sold and delivered them to the Iranians despite warnings from the US and Britain that they would wind up being used to kill American and British troops.

I'm sure the US will gather the serial numbers to check them against the records at Steyr, but why would the Austrians have overlooked the obvious connections between Iran and at least the Shi'ite insurgencies in Iraq? The EU had worked on negotiations to end the Iranian drive towards nuclear weapons for the past few years; in fact, the EU had the lead on those negotiations. Shouldn't Steyr had considered that those negotiations might break down, and that European soldiers might have to face those weapons in the not-so-distant future, even outside of Iraq?

So now the Austrians have to rely on the slender hope that American military officials cannot tell the difference between a highly specialized Steyr sniper rifle and a knock-off. When that fantasy collapses, perhaps they will spin another to avoid the public-relations disaster their arms trade with millenial Islamists in Teheran will rightly bring upon them. Perhaps they will claim that the dog ate the Anglo-American warning.

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