Iraq Envoy Says U.S. Lags In Arms Delivery

The United States government has been very slow to provide Iraqi security forces with basic needs, including armored vehicles and weapons, says Iraq's ambassador to the United States. The delays have come despite Baghdad's willingness to pay for the equipment.

"We have been waiting and waiting," Samir Sumaidaie told a small group of reporters. "It has been a constant theme since 2003. I don't know why it's taking so long."

The problem does not appear to be one of high-tech weaponry falling into the wrong hands. Most of the desired equipment involves more basic protective gear, including body armor and bomb-detection equipment.

Sumaidaie says that most Iraqi security units currently travel in the back of pickup trucks, exposed to possible snipers, while U.S. forces are much better protected. Iraqi soldiers "are just cannon fodder," he says.

The military's procurement system has come under fire from U.S. troops over the past few years for similar delays in equipping U.S. soldiers, many of whom had to jury-rig their own armored vehicles during the first two years in Iraq.

But there may also be concerns about the conflicted loyalties of Iraqi units. Many police officers, as well as some military units, have long been suspected of having ties to violent Shiite militia groups.

The Iraqis' frustration prompted President Jalal Talabani to strike a deal with China during a visit last month to provide Iraq with weapons for the nation's police force.

Sumaidaie recalls his own days as minister of interior in 2004 when maybe half of his police force carried rifles, even as insurgents boasted all kinds of heavy weaponry. Today, he has trouble understanding the holdup.

"We made it clear what we want" from the U.S. government, he says. "We're just not getting it."

By Kevin Whitelaw