Six months ago, Sunni Arab militants faced a daunting firepower imbalance in their uprising against the U.S.-equipped Iraqi army west of Baghdad.
But once their campaign for the city of Fallouja was launched in January, their lethal capabilities were bolstered from the stockpiles of the Iraqi armed forces.
Many soldiers fled, throwing down their weapons, which were picked up by the insurgents. Police stations and security posts overrun by Sunni militants yielded more martial booty to be turned against the forces of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Shiite Muslim-led government.
“Praise God, we soon had enough weapons to fight for one or two years,” said Ahmad Dabaash, spokesman for the Islamic Army, a Sunni rebel faction, who spoke in a hotel lobby here in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region. “And now? Don’t even ask!”
ISIS, which also reportedly snatched the equivalent of close to $500 million in cash from a Mosul bank, has been catapulted to the position of the world’s wealthiest and best-equipped militant group, analysts say. Its riches easily eclipse those of Al Qaeda under Osama bin Laden, despite his personal fortune. The group, which has attracted thousands of fighters from the Arab world, Europe and elsewhere, also holds sway over a broad swath of contiguous territory in the heart of the Middle East.
“ISIS are well-trained, very capable, and have advanced weapons systems that they know how to use,” said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.
ISIS “took the weapons stores of the 2nd and 3rd [Iraqi army] divisions in Mosul, the 4th division in Salah al Din, the 12th division in the areas near Kirkuk, and another division in Diyala,” said Jabbar Yawar, secretary-general of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, punctuating his words with quick flicks of his laser pointer as he stitched a scythe-like arc across a map denoting various provinces and cities strung across northern and central Iraq.
“We’re talking about armaments for 200,000 soldiers, all from the Americans,” concluded Yawar, a mustachioed figure whose office in Irbil features a photograph of him as a young peshmerga fighter in the 1980s against the government of former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.
With such an immense quantity of captured weaponry, Yawar said, ISIS and its confederates are now capable of laying down “a colossal intensity of bullets” against their foes.
Full article: ISIS weapons windfall may alter balance in Iraq, Syria conflicts (LA Times)