IN OTHER WORDS: Stray guns

About the last thing the US ought to be doing in Iraq is funnelling weapons into black-market weapons bazaars, as sectarian militias arm themselves for civil war. Yet that is just what Washington may have been doing for several years, thanks to an inexplicable decision that standard Pentagon regulations for registering weapons transfers did not apply to Iraq war.

Of more than 500,000 weapons turned over to the Iraqi Ministries of Defence and Interior — including rocket-propelled grenade launchers, assault rifles, machine guns and sniper rifles — the serial numbers of only 12,128 were recorded. Some 370,000 of these weapons were paid for by US taxpayers, under the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund. This chilling information comes from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, which has distinguished itself as the most vigilant agency monitoring the money spent on the Iraq conflict.

It turns out that the Pentagon not only failed to register the weapons, but also failed to provide the spare parts, repair manuals and maintenance technicians needed to keep them in working order. These findings go a long way toward explaining why Iraq appears to be ever more violent, with no clear plans yet coming from Baghdad or Washington that seem likely to

restore a semblance of order.