Iraq

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

The U.S. military is in the process of a massive drawdown in Iraq. By summer's end, the force there will be cut in half, to about 50,000 troops. The U.S. is also shipping home tons of equipment and handing over some bases to the Iraqis, along with millions of dollars worth of materials.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the Iraqi province of Anbar, where markets are now selling all sorts of goods that have come from American bases.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Iraq War has cost the American taxpayer trillions of dollars. A lot of that money went to building up a vast and complicated infrastructure that housed hundreds of bases, combat outposts and contractor camps all over this country.

Now, all that is slowly being dismantled, and much of what was on those facilities is being sold off piece by piece, or being handed over wholesale to the Iraqis, creating a thriving new resale industry.

Mr. FALAH LAHEJ: (Arabic spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Arabic spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Falah Lahej picks through a dusty lot just north of the city of Ramadi, in Anbar. All around is the flat, brown desert. The pulsating summer sun gives the goods strewn about the area a burning sheen. There are generators with Made in the USA engraved on them, barrels, barbed wire, an industrial scale, old wooden crates - anything that was once used by the Americans is being resold here.

Lahej is looking for a load-bearing hook. He says the items here may not look like much, but...

Mr. LAHEJ: (Through translator) The things here are better than the ones in the local market. They're good quality. The ones in the market are not durable.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Faiz al-Dulaimi acts as a middleman. He buys whatever he can straight from the bases that are closing.

Mr. FAIZ AL-DULAIMI: (Through Translator) In the past, all this belonged to the Americans, and nothing would leave the bases. Now, they sell them because they are considered a burden, I guess. There are two ways we get the goods. Some stuff is sold by a Turkish company that buys them from the Americans and sells them to the Iraqi traders.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then there is the other, less legitimate way.

Mr. AL-DULAIMI: (Through Translator): The Americans turn over every base to the Iraqi army and police, and they're all thieves.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At Camp Victory, whole units are dedicating themselves to receiving military hardware, fixing it up and then making it ready to ship out.

So I'm standing in front of a row of MRAPs, the U.S. military vehicle that they use here in Iraq. And they are slowly, piece by piece, being dismantled, either to be shipped back to the United States or onwards to war again, in Afghanistan.

Master Sergeant Tim Regan, from the 4/2 Stryker Brigade out of Fort Lewis, says the clock is ticking.

MASTER SERGEANT TIM REGAN (4/2 Stryker Brigade): We're here in the motor pool about 12 hours a day, making sure everything is as good it can be.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Major military hardware like this is not what is being handed over to the Iraqis as the U.S. military departs. Captain Steve Dowdy is in charge of determining what stays and what goes for his brigade.

Captain STEVE DOWDY (4/2 Stryker Brigade): Moneywise, we can approximately sign over $25 million to the Iraqi government. And equipment-wise, we can turn over containment housing units, the CHUs, anything that is not military-related.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's 25 to $30 million per camp. Dowdy is overseeing the transfer of about six to eight camps to the Iraqis, but there are hundreds of them across the country. That's hundreds of millions of dollars worth of equipment and infrastructure that are being given to the Iraqi army and police as the U.S. leaves here.

The Americans say the reason, in some cases, is simple. A blast wall is worth about $5,000, for example, but it would cost $15,000 to ship it out. So leaving it to the Iraqis is actually saving the military money. Still, once the bases and what's left in them are handed over, the Americans have no control over what happens.

Is there any way to sort of know what happens to this stuff when it gets into the Iraqis' hands?

Capt. DOWDY: I have no clue.

(Soundbite of sweeping)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In another part of Anbar Province, a worker cleans out a trailer called CHUs, or containment housing units. They were ubiquitous at every U.S. military and contractor facility in Iraq. There are more than two dozen of them at this market, some fully fitted with showers and toilets. Many are still filled with the detritus of their previous owners - white boards with route maps drawn on them, bed frames, posters of American sports stars.

Raghdan Jameel says they buy them for about $1,000 a pop.

Mr. RAGHDAN JAMEEL: (Through Translator) That's not even 1 percent of its real price. We sell them on to farmers, or to government officials who want their guards to live in them.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a lucrative business, and he predicts there will be a lot more of these trailers and other American goods for sale, as the American pullout picks up pace.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News.

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