ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
The Turkish government is increasingly worried about U.S. supplied arms being smuggled in from Iraq. The Turks say some of the weapons are ending up in the hands of separatist guerillas. The U.S. government acknowledges that tens of thousands of guns distributed to Iraqi security forces have gone missing.
NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Istanbul.
IVAN WATSON: On Wednesday, in the southeastern Turkish border town of Mardin, Turkish police displayed evidence of what they said was the growing black market trade in U.S. weapons from neighboring Iraq. An officer placed 18 Glock pistols on a table and cocked one of the handguns in front of reporters.
(Soundbite of gun cocking)
Mardin's police chief said this was the same model pistol that the U.S. military distributes to the Iraqi police force. He said Turkish police seized the weapons after they were smuggled into Turkey where they can sell for as much as $5,000 apiece on the black market. The demand for these guns is growing, said Mardin's police chief. Last month, the Turkish government announced the seizure of large quantities of weapons that appeared to have originally come from the U.S. military in Iraq. They included Glock pistols, AK-47s and M-16 rifles found in the hands of captured rebels from the Kurdish separatists group the PKK.
The U.S. and its NATO ally, Turkey, both officially labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.
Professor Ihsan Bal is a terrorism expert in Ankara. He says the news that American guns are showing up in PKK hands comes at a time when U.S. popularity in Turkey is at an all-time low.
Dr. IHSAN BAL (Director, Center for International Security, Terrorism and Ethnic Conflict Studies): There are quite a number of people who are ready to believe that America might have directly gave these weapons to the terrorist organizations.
WATSON: U.S. government officials insist they do not do business with the PKK.
Mr. GEOFF MORRELL (Spokesman, Pentagon): We don't talk to them, deal with them, let alone arm them.
WATSON: Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says the U.S. government is examining the Turkish claims. He says that probe is part of a larger investigation into a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which concluded that 190,000 American issued pistols and rifles disappeared after being distributed to Iraqi security forces during the first years of the U.S. occupation.
Mr. MORRELL: There is a very large, wide-ranging investigation underway to try to get to the bottom of a number of issues with regards to whether it would be contracting, unaccounted for weapons, or these allegations by the Turks that somehow U.S. issued weapons ended up in the hands of terrorist, who then used them in crimes within Turkey.
WATSON: Speaking on condition of anonymity, U.S. government officials in both Washington and the Middle East say it is entirely possible that some of the missing weapons could have entered the black market and eventually ended up in the hands of groups like the PKK.
Rachel Stohl at the Center for Defense Information in Washington says the proliferation of U.S. weapons across the region is an unfortunate consequence of the U.S. occupation's rush to arm Iraqi security forces.
Ms. RACHEL STOHL (Senior Analyst, Center for Defense Information): Weapons from Iraq can certainly have a devastating effect on countries in the region. They can be used for crime and violence, to assist insurgencies or opposition groups in various countries, and in some cases may actually be used to destabilize governments.
WATSON: In Baghdad, a high-level official in the Iraqi Interior Ministry, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iraqi police officers were involved in selling off large numbers of American-supplied weapons to militias and arms dealers.
Hugh Pope, a senior analyst with the Istanbul office of the International Crisis Group, says it's not just guns that are slipping across the Iraqi border into Turkey.
Mr. HUGH POPE (Senior Analyst, International Crisis Group): It's also explosive materials, it's also guerilla techniques are being used by the Kurdish rebels in Turkey that have clearly been copied from the successful tactics of insurgents in Iraq - like the roadside bombs.
WATSON: This year, more than 60 Turkish soldiers and police have been killed in an upsurge of fighting with PKK guerillas. Often these casualties are the results of roadside bombs. The Turkish military has repeatedly called for a cross-border offensive against PKK camps in the mountains of northern Iraq. Washington has urged the Turks to hold back, arguing that such an incursion would further destabilize Iraq.
Ivan Watson, NPR News, Istanbul.
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