Δευτέρα, 16 Δεκεμβρίου 2019

Η "επική" συμφωνία πώλησης σερβικών όπλων προκάλεσε νεκρούς διαδηλωτές στη Βαγδάτη

Η "επική" συμφωνία πώλησης σερβικών όπλων προκάλεσε νεκρούς διαδηλωτές στη Βαγδάτη

Marija Ristic, Ιβάν Αγγελόβσκι και Μάζα Ζιβάνοβιτς

Οι ιρακινές αρχές αναφέρουν ότι δεν έπαιξαν ρόλο στην εισαγωγή βομβίδων δακρυϊκού τύπου στρατιωτικού τύπου που χρησιμοποίησαν οι ιρακινές δυνάμεις σε θανατηφόρο φαινόμενο κατά των διαδηλωτών τον Οκτώβριο. Μια έρευνα BIRN, ωστόσο, δείχνει ότι οι χειροβομβίδες της Σερβίας ήταν μέρος μιας συμφωνίας όπλων μεταξύ Βελιγραδίου και Βαγδάτης και απεστάλησαν απευθείας στο υπουργείο Αμύνης του Ιράκ το 2009.

‘Epic’ Serbian Arms Deal Led to Pierced Skulls in Baghdad
Iraqi police forces clash with anti-government protesters at a barricade in the Al Rasheed street in central Baghdad, Iraq, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/MURTAJA LATEEF
BIRNDecember 13, 2019
Iraqi authorities say they played no part in importing military-grade tear gas grenades used by Iraqi forces to deadly effect against protesters in October. A BIRN investigation, however, shows the Serbian-made grenades were part of an arms deal between Belgrade and Baghdad and shipped direct to the Iraqi defence ministry in 2009.
This article is also available in: Bos/Hrv/Srp
Ared carpet and swirling dust awaited Dragan Sutanovac as he landed in Baghdad in 2009 to sign a military cooperation deal with Iraq on behalf of the Serbian government, part of a revival of the close ties the two countries enjoyed before the 2000 ouster of Slobodan Milosevic and the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein three years later.

Serbia had already clinched a $235-million agreement to sell arms to the US-backed Iraqi government the year before; the new deal proposed to deepen that relationship even further.

“We had an extraordinary welcome, an extraordinary welcome in every sense,” Sutanovac, then Serbia’s defence minister and now an opposition lawmaker, recalled. “The challenges were great,” he told BIRN.

Hailed in Serbia as the ‘deal of the century’, the 2008 arms agreement saw Serbia agree to export pistols, bullet-proof vests, ballistic equipment, mortars, Lasta military training aircrafts and military-grade tear gas grenades to Iraqi forces trying to prop up the government against still-fierce sectarian fighting.

The 40 mm M99 grenades – far heavier than the tear gas canisters used by police forces around the world to control civil unrest – arrived in four shipments in 2009, BIRN reveals.

A decade later, they were used by Iraqi government forces to disperse anti-government protesters in the Iraqi capital, to deadly effect.

Military-grade grenades manufactured in Serbia and Iran were responsible for at least 20 of the more than 400 deaths reported since protests erupted in early October, piercing the skulls of those they struck, according to Amnesty International.

Iraqi authorities have insisted they did not import the deadly grenades, blaming instead a “third party” trying to undermine the government and stoke instability.

A BIRN investigation, however, has found that the Serbian grenades were indeed part of the 2008 Iraq-Serbia arms deal, with the Iraqi Defence Ministry the specified end-user.

Via eyewitness accounts and analysis of photographs and serial numbers, BIRN has traced the weapons to the central Serbian ammunitions producer Sloboda Cacak and the path they took to Iraq via the Serbian state-owned arms intermediary Yugoimport-SDPR, the company that built the Baghdad headquarters of Hussein’s ruling Ba’ath party and at least five underground bunkers in the 1990s in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Adviser on Arms and Military Operations, said the grenades had caused “horrific injuries” of the like Amnesty had not seen before in its monitoring of protests around the world. And Serbia bears part of the blame.

“They can’t just sell the weapon and wash their hands of it and say that now it is not their responsibility at all what happens,” Castner told BIRN.

‘They are using them to kill’

Pictures of Serbian produced grenades photographed by Iraqi protesters. Photo: Courtesy of Amnesty International 

The protests began on October 1 over widespread unemployment, corruption and poor public services. Some 432 people have since been killed and more than 19,000 injured, according to the latest reports. 

On October 31, Amnesty revealed that Serbian grenades were being deployed against the protesters.

“Since 25 October, the anti-riot [police] has not stopped launching tear gas and ‘smokers’ into the crowd, whether provoked or not,” the rights group quoted an Iraqi eyewitness as saying.

“It is continuous and random. … They are not using them to disperse, they are using them to kill. All the deaths in Baghdad have been from these canisters going inside the protesters’ bodies. They do not think about the fact that there are families and children in the crowds.”

In multiple cases, Amnesty reported, military-grade grenades manufactured in Serbia and Iran pierced the skulls of protesters and sometimes lodged in their heads.

Castner said Amnesty had verified 20 such deaths. “We monitored protests all around the world and we had not really seen injuries like this,” he said.

The tear gas canisters usually used by police around the world in controlling civil unrest are smaller and significantly lighter, Castner said.

The types identified in the Baghdad violence, however, are modeled on offensive military grenades designed for combat and are far more hazardous to protesters due to their weight and construction.

A typical 37mm police-style tear gas grenade weighs between 25 and 50 grams, and consists of several smaller canisters that separate and spread out over an area.

In contrast, the Serbian and Iranian 40mm military-style grenades identified in Baghdad consist of a single heavy slug and are between five and 10 times heavier, weighing 220 to 250 grams.

“As both the police and military grenades are fired with a similar muzzle velocity, meaning they travel through the air at the same speed, the grenades that weigh 10 times as much deliver 10 times the force when they strike a protester, causing horrific injuries,” Castner told BIRN.

Serbia’s Ministry of Trade confirmed to BIRN the origin of the grenades and said they were exported directly to the Iraqi Ministry of Defence in 2009. BIRN was unable to ascertain how many were sold.

The Iraqi government, however, said Iraqi authorities were not involved in the import of such weapons.

“The projectiles discovered in the heads and bodies of the demonstrators through examinations and autopsies at the forensic medicine’s department were not imported by the Iraqi government or any official Iraqi side,” Defence Minister Najah al-Shammari told the Nas news site.

Blaming an unspecified “third party”, al-Shammari said the grenades had “entered the country in a mysterious manner.”

Serbia has exported the same types of grenades to, among others, Montenegro, Belgium, Israel and Spain.

From Saddam’s bunkers to guns, mortars and helmets

Iraqi protesters light candles near bloodstained clothes at the site of killing their fellow at the Al Khilani square in central Baghdad, Iraq, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/MURTAJA LATEEF

The grenades are just one small part of a multi-billion-dollar arms relationship between Iraq and Serbia stretching back decades to when Serbia was part of socialist Yugoslavia and both countries were allies in the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement.

During the 1990s, when Milosevic’s rump Yugoslavia was under Western sanctions, military and construction contracts in Iraq were a lifeline, with Yugoimport-SDPR a big beneficiary in building bunkers and the Ba’ath party HQ.

The fall of Milosevic and Hussein within three years of each other disrupted ties, but they were quickly revived by the reformist government that took power in Serbia as it raced to rebuild a once-thriving arms industry and replenish state coffers.

“It is not unknown that the former Yugoslavia had exceptional cooperation with Iraq, not only in the field of defence but also in the field of construction,” said Sutanovac. “Upon my arrival to the position of defence minister, these opportunities opened up.”

Recalling the 2008 arms deal, Sutanovac told BIRN: “Someone called it the contract of the century. For some, it was an epic contract.”

“In the beginning, I think it was over $238 million. Later, that contract grew to over $325 million.”

At the time, the Serbian daily Politika reported that the deal included some 17,000 guns, mortars and ammunition. Serbian factories would also produce uniforms, helmets and protective ballistic equipment for Iraqi forces, some of whom would be trained in Serbia.

The New York Times called it a “secret Iraqi deal” that raised suspicion of corruption.

“The deal was struck in September without competitive bidding and it sidestepped anti corruption safeguards, including the approval of senior uniformed Iraqi Army officers and an Iraqi contract approval committee,” the newspaper reported.

“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 current Serbian government, led by the conservative Progressive Party of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, picked up where Sutanovac’s Democratic Party left off in the sale of arms and ammunition to Iraq worth tens of millions of euros.

The Serbian Ministry of Trade told BIRN the end users also included Iraq’s Ministry of Energy and the companies Al-Ikhaa General, Second Defence and Security and Aviation Fair United.

Between 2009 and 2017, Serbia also exported arms to Iraq via Jordan, Montenegro, Bulgaria, the US and Poland, but the value of these exports and their precise purpose is not known.

Serbian arms spotted in war zones around the world

An Iraqi protester stands next to the pictures and belongings of their fellows who were killed during the anti-government protests, at the Al Tahrir square in central Baghdad, 2019. Photo: EPA-EFE/AHMED JALIL

This is not the first time a recipient of Serbian arms has been accused of horrific rights violations.

Just in the last three years, Serbian-made weapons have been spotted in conflict zones in Afghanistan, Nairobi, Cameroon, Yemen and Syria.

In a series of investigations, BIRN has pieced together a Serbian arms trade involving powerful circles of former military officers, businessmen and government associates – even the father of Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic.

According to documents obtained by BIRN, Branko Stefanovic travelled to Saudi Arabia as part of a delegation representing private arms intermediary GIM and was involved in the purchase of state-made weapons – at preferential rates – that reportedly ended up in the hands of Islamic State fighters in Yemen. The Serbian government has dismissed the revelations as nonsense and arrested the whistleblower who leaked the documents.

Separately, on December 10, the US announced it had brought in new sanctions targeting nine individuals suspected of directly or indirectly acting or claiming to act for or on behalf of the Serbian arms dealer Slobodan Tesic, who is already on a US blacklist. 

Last year, Amnesty International told BIRN that Cameroon had used Serbian-made weapons in a pattern of “systematic violations” of human rights, and called on Serbia to suspend arms export to the African state.

In September 2017, Serbian-made Coyote machine guns were spotted in Nigeria after reportedly being taken from Islamist terrorists fighting for Boko Haram.

The same year, BIRN revealed how Serbian Coyotes travelled 6,000 kilometres from the state-owned manufacturer Zastava to Syria as part of a delivery of up to 205 guns in 2015 and 2016 to the Free Syrian Army – with Serbia, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the US all playing a role.

As a signatory to the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, Serbia should refuse to sell weapons to a country if it believes that the ultimate recipient of those weapons is not the ‘end-user’ specified by the government. Abuse of the ‘end-user’ principle has facilitated a steady flow of arms to various militant factions in the likes of Yemen and Syria, fuelling the fighting in both countries.

Likewise, if such weapons are being used by police to kill civilian protesters, such exports should be halted, Castner said.

“They need to ensure to always sell their products to a responsible party and unfortunately in this case, because of the level of violence against the protest, the Iraqi security forces have shown that they are not,” Castner told BIRN.

Sutanovac, however, said the question was a “philosophical” one.

“Unless sanctions are imposed, I think our responsibility does not really exist, except I dare say moral [responsibility],” he told BIRN.

“But the question always arises whether it is moral and ethical to produce weapons at all, whether weapons kill people or people kill people.”

Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια:

Δημοσίευση σχολίου