From bullets to Playboy DVDs, US forces sell Iraq equipment

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The Independent Online

The detritus of occupation comes in all shapes and sizes. In Iraq, it's M-16 ammunition clips, rifle bipods and body armour at Baghdad's Haraj market. Or Playboy DVDs, Irish Spring soap and military-issue MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) at a store in Karrada district, scavenged from the trash or more often skimmed off supplies at US bases by industrious local contractors.

For traders in US cast-offs, now is the last hurrah. The remaining 85,000 US soldiers in Iraq are pulling out over the next 18 months, and the Pentagon is getting rid of the fixtures and fittings of the bases they live in, some of it at auction, some bound for the black market.

Among the items hitting the streets are air-conditioners and refrigerators from 500 bases that the US operated at the height of its presence in 2007, when 170,000 soldiers were trying to keep Iraq from tearing itself apart. The size of the force meant many of the bases were like cities, with retail stores as big as Wal-Marts, and Burger King and Krispy Kreme outlets.

In the western desert province of Anbar, a hotbed of Sunni Islamist insurgents in 2006/07, traders sift through old vacuum cleaners, satellite dishes and spare parts of US military vehicles, stripping down wooden cabins and portable toilets. Such are the spoils of modern war, while stocks last.

"I think the price of this equipment could go up because of the US withdrawal from Iraq," said Faiez Ahmed, picking through US scrap near the Anbar city of Ramadi. "Some of this equipment can still be used, like the fridges, air-conditioners, mattresses, tents," he said. "The rest that can't, like tyres, goes to smelters in the north."

The military says its clean-out procedures are "deliberate and systematic" and that it has treated and disposed of more than 130,000 tonnes of toxic waste.

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