U.S. military gear on sale at dangerous Baghdad bazaar
By WARD SANDERSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 5, 2004
BAGHDAD — A bazaar in Baghdad’s perilous downtown sells U.S. military uniforms at discount prices.
One shop displayed about 40 U.S. desert camouflage uniforms, along with beige boots, headgear and backpacks. At least one backpack still had an Army and Air Force Exchange Service tag affixed to it.
An entire outfit, boots and backpack included, could be had for about $55 — about half the original cost of legitimate boots alone.
The sales take on a sinister air considering the deaths of about 50 members of the Iraqi National Guard found shot in the head, execution-style, on Oct. 24 some 95 miles east of the capital. The unarmed troops, destined for home leave, had apparently stopped at a checkpoint manned by terrorists dressed as police, officials have said.
The Baghdad market also sold local uniforms of the same type issued to the executed Iraqis.
A U.S. military spokesman, Tech. Sgt. Eric Grill, said he was unaware the uniforms were circulating, but would alert the chain of command.
Another spokesman, Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, said military items routinely appear in local markets abroad. He said it was no different at his previous post in the Far East.
“Things destined for AAFES or bought by servicemembers do show up on local economies,” Boylan said. “Sometimes they’re thrown away. Sometimes they’re knockoffs.”
He said Internet sites sold similar equipment, as did surplus stores in the United States.
An AAFES spokesman, Maj. Dave Accetta, said some of the items may have been stolen from exchange trucks or convoy shipments, but had no details regarding the merchandise in Iraq. One exchange employee in Iraq said this past summer, a single such robbery resulted in the loss of $85,000 in merchandise.
The bazaar hawking the uniforms, Bab Al Sharji, is dubbed a “thieves market” by locals. Customers watch their wallets while perusing the wares. The video vendor sells copies of beheadings of foreigners in Fallujah alongside pornography. The optics vendor sells U.S. military night-vision equipment.
The precise origin of the U.S. uniforms was unclear. Some had no patches. At least one was marked as if it had originated with the Kuwaiti military, but its inside tag showed it was otherwise identical to U.S. issue. Hats and trousers, too, were of standard American design. Boots looked like U.S. desert models, but were tagged with a Middle Eastern company name. A Bugout Gear Frag Bag backpack was clearly marked as new merchandise intended for sale at an AAFES base store.
The uniform vendor said many of his items are purchased by Kurds. When asked where his military outfits originate, the salesman was more vague.
“There are people supplying this stuff to us,” he said.