Czech bullet-proof vests found protecting Iraqi insurgents

Coalition forces in Iraq have come across insurgents wearing Czech-made bullet-proof vests. American authorities suspected that illegal shipments of military equipment from the Czech Republic to Iraq could have occurred, and have asked the Czech police for assistance in investigating the matter.

Earlier this year, the American Federal Bureau of Investigation approached Czech Police with a request to help investigate possible illegal supplies of military material to Iraq. The equipment in question was Czech-made bullet-proof vests that had been found in the hands of Iraqi rebels, fighting against American-led coalition units and Iraqi security forces. Pavla Kopecka is the spokeswoman for Czech Police Headquarters.

"We received information about this fact from the Americans together with a request to investigate how these bullet-proof vests got to Iraq."

The issue of illegal supplies of arms and other equipment smuggled into Iraq and used by radicals in attacks on both military and civilian targets is being increasingly addressed by Iraqi authorities. Sectarian violence in the country has intensified over the last months: one of the deadliest attacks since the beginning of the war in Iraq took place on August 14. The quadruple bombing left at least 250 people dead and several hundred wounded. In July, the U.S. Department of Defence said that nearly 190,000 weapons had gone missing in Iraq, which is one of every 25 weapons intended for Iraqi security forces. According to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research group, an estimated seven million guns are believed to be in the hands of Iraqi civilians, a nation of 27 million.

In this case, however, it turned out that the export of Czech bullet-proof vests to Iraq was in fact legal. American authorities supplied their Czech counterpart with serial numbers found on the vests. Several months later, the investigation by the Organized Crime Squad of Czech Police revealed that no illegal shipments of military equipment originating in the Czech Republic had taken place. Pavla Kopecka again.

"We checked all the facts and found out that everything was completely legal and in accordance with the law. We did not come across any problem and that is what we told the Americans. The problem only occurred in Iraq. The material was probably stolen from Iraqi warehouses, but I can only speculate on that."

The vests were produced by a company based in Jevicko, North-West Moravia. In 2003, the company signed a contract with the Iraqi government to supply about 6,000 vests for the newly-formed police corps. The total value of the contract was 2.7 million U.S. dollars. In the last two years, the Czech Republic has exported 66 million crowns, or 3.3 million US dollars, worth of mostly ammunition and other military material to Iraq. According to Czech Police Headquarters, the bullet-proof vests is the first case ever of Czech military supplies ending up in the wrong hands.