Iran secretly sold ‘untold quantities’ of ammo to African warring groups

Two of the 'mystery cartridges'
An independent report has concluded that some of Africa’s most brutal conflicts are currently being fuelled by “untold quantities” of Iranian-manufactured small-arms ammunition. The ire of weapons-trafficking researchers is usually directed at the ‘heavyweights’ of the global arms-trade, including Russia, China, the United States, and France, among other countries. It appears, however, that Iran’s state-owned weapons manufacturer has been selling ammunition throughout Africa since at least 2006 via a secret network of distributors. According to The New York Times, a group of arms-trafficking experts from the United Nations, Amnesty International, the Federation of American Scientists, and other bodies, has found that Iran began selling ammunition to African clients in 2006 or earlier. On that year, a new brand of ammunition rounds for Kalashnikov assault rifles started appearing in armed clashes in Kenya, Uganda, and Darfur (now South Sudan). By 2010, the same type of cartridges had been found in Guinea, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of Congo. More recently, says The Times, similar cartridges were discovered in the hands of groups in Niger connected with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Suspiciously, the cartridges bore no factory code and their packaging had been deliberately constructed to obscure the identity of the manufacturer. However, according to the expert study, it is now considered “beyond dispute” that the Ammunition and Metallurgy Industries Group, a subsidiary of Iran’s state-owned and operated Defense Industries Organization, is the source of the mysterious cartridges. It is worth pointing out that many of the governments or militias that have been found to use Iranian ammunition are officially subject to UN resolutions that bar arms transfers to the countries or territories in which they operate. The Times article carries comments by former UN weapons investigator, James Bevan, who currently directs Conflict Armament Research, a private investigative outfit that tracks and identifies worldwide conventional weapons usage. Bevan says that Iran has not been traditionally considered a significant source of weapons or weapons-accessories sales to developing nations; but, he adds, “our understanding of that is changing”. The experts who authored the report are unsure whether the ammunition was supplied to African clients directly by the Iranian government, or whether front companies headquartered abroad were used to mediate in the transfer. There is also the question of why the government or Iran decided to enter the African weapons market. Experts speculate that the decision was informed by profit motives, as well as by Tehran’s desire “to gain influence in Africa”. But, they note, much remains unknown.

Research credit for this article goes to University of Oxford researcher Steven Wagner.

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