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The best is the local reaction. Check out the article in Die Presse; it is all of two paragraphs long and refers to Steyr as a Traditionsunternehmer Steyr and the facts as allegations from the Daily Telegraph. Perhaps thats the tack to take considering the silliness of the President of the company in the SPON article: 'Nobody called us to check the serial numbers. The patent on the gun has run out. They could have been made anywhere.' Right. I wonder if anyone gave Ursula Plassnik a good thrashing at the Muencher Sicherheitskonferenz? What was she doing there anyway? Am I the only one who heard that meandering speech? Austria should have appointed Schwarzenberg, he at least did the Czech Republic proud. If Austria wants to engage with the old k.u.k countries on a European level fine, but they dont seem to be up to the task on an international level. Shockingly incompetent.

Although I'm German, I can once again only apologize to our American friends. This news is horrible and a shame. Don't expect our media to report about it though.

@ mir: "don't expect our media to report about it though"

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/0,1518,466170,00.html


@ mir2: "Although I'm German, I can once again only apologize to our American friends."
to apologize for other people is a very german habit.

So, they decided to tell their readers what the Daily Telegraph found out. Good, I didn't expect that. Maybe they thought it would be too obvious to ignore it, maybe they do feel the blogosphere. Anyway, tomorrow they will again tell us that there is no evidence Iran supplies the "insurgents" in Iraq - just as if this and other stories never existed.

Copy of email sent to Austrian embassy (name and town not withheld from original email, but withheld from this post)
--------------------------------------------
Dear Sir or Madam,

I normally pride myself on being civil and polite, but I am having a very difficult time controlling the feelings of contempt and disgust that I have experienced ever since reading this morning that Austria apparently approved the sale of hundreds of .50 caliber sniper rifles to the government of Iran, many of which are now being used to kill my countrymen in Iraq.

It should have been obvious to even the stupidest of Austrian government officials that such weapons would end up in the hands of the murderous insurgents in Iraq. Accordingly, I can only conclude that the Austrian government decided in favor of Austrian war profiteers at the expense of American lives.

Thanks for nothing, Austria.

[name & town withheld], North Carolina
USA

You know, I was always under the impression that it was against international law to use .50 caliber weapons against *personnel* -- they could only be used against "equipment" (you know, like trucks, aircraft, helmets, belt buckles, web gear, ruck sacks, etc.). So, it's actually quite astounding that Austria (or any country) would sell, and announce publicly that they sold, such weapons to be used against people -- which I'm assuming is what drug "smugglers" and "dealers" are.

The implications of that are quite a bit more serious than the appearance of having given the US the finger.

I agree it was a stupid sale, apart from the commercial realities facing Steyr at present. However, if the State Department had initially allowed the sale of the rifles to the US, which is where they were originally ordered from, then we wouldn't be in this mess now.

Don't blame Steyr completely. Yes, they are responsible for selling rifles to Iran, but they made them for American long range shooters for civilian consumption. Because the State dept wanted Americans to buy American .50 cals, the import permit was refused. So the manufacturer had them on its hands, and decided to go elsewhere.

A sad consequence for everybody.

@ spotted reptile,

Wow. So America really is to blame for everything. Got it.

So let me get your logic: I don't buy your products. That means it is partially my fault when you turn around and sell your products to a mass murderer. Interesting. I am starting to understand just how deranged you blame it all on America idiots really are.

ScottH
You know, I was always under the impression that it was against international law to use .50 caliber weapons against *personnel* --

I don't think so. U.S. snipers use .50 cal in part because of their range, I believe - or I should say, so I've been told.

I was told by people who let me spend a few fun hours firing one - a Barrett - at a range on Ft. Bragg. The recoil is not bad but you need a helmet and earplugs. Also, the sucker weighs a ton.

/yes, completely against the rules, don't tell anyone.

It is definitely not against International Humanitarian Law to use .50 caliber weapons against soliders in the act of active combat. However, if the Iranians are distributing these sniper rifles with anti-armor ammunitions (the munition is labeled 'incendiary' by the Daily Telegraph) that would qualify as an explosive munition and be contrary to the Hague Convention of 1899 outlawing that time of munition against soliders. Even if Iran is not a signatory nation to the convention, this principle has been incorporated into international law through state practice and opinio juris. Not that our continental brethren really care, but dem the rules of war.

bob
that would qualify as an explosive munition and be contrary to the Hague Convention of 1899 outlawing that time of munition against soliders.

I don't mean this to be callous - altho' it is, I know - but I never understood the rationale for that. If the purpose is to kill the enemy, what difference does it make how it's done? Crimeny, the most horrid footage I've ever seen is of U.S. soldiers using flamethrowers in the Pacific Theater. A ungodly way to die, to be sure, but it was, evidently, the safest option for our soldiers.

War can really suck.

The notion belongs to a different epoch apparently and a more continental appreciation of war. We think of War as Hell regardless post the Civil War. However when the 1899 Accords were signed what wars had the continent experienced in earnest post Crimean War? Germany's wars of expansion 1864-71 and colonial wars. They did not appreciate the horror of modern technology. So this was a 1/2 baked effort to retain the nobility of war. A solider may die but lets not prolong or intensify his sufferng if we can help it. An explosive bullet, like dum-dums, make even a minor wound fatal. So if you are a bad sniper and hit someone in his left love handle, he will still die. The conception from the 19th century was that this is not sporting: (1) why should your sniper be rewarded for mediocrity; (2) soliders are valuable and though performing a hazardous duty, any type of wound already exposes him to death through disease and infection and (3) war is an international political disagreement of the highest order. If we are bound by honor to fight, so be it. But that is no reason to engage in indiscriminate slaughter. That's why we dont have say ceramic or glass bullets on the battlefield. Doctors cant get them out. There was an additional protocol to the 1949 Geneva Conventions which codified this type of rule. I dont think the US ratified it, but we are signatories to the 1899 Hague Convention. Anyway hope that helped. Moot point, really. Just being a bit snarky.

RayD I was just about to step all over myself with some more conjecture on the subject. Instead I'll post a link that will clear up a rumor that might get started about this matter. The Elephant Bar.

BTW the Barrett model 99 is a 50 cal. sniper rifle used by American troops, the S50 by Steyr-Mannlicher is also classed as an armor piercing weapon because of the propulsion charge not the projectile. The rifle is a quality weapon but its sale is what's called into question. Because of this I would expect Austria to be quietly dropped from the competitive lists of the US. Once this gains momentum on the net it will show up on the political radar screen.

Please google "arms sales to iran" and look at the hits:

#1 is about Israeli arms being sold to the Mullahs and US and German (!) efforts to stop them.

#2 and #3 are about the Iran-Contra-Affair.

The rest of the first and the whole second page are about Russian, Chinese and US sales to Iran.

I really don’t the US was or is under any illusion Austria is their ally

I omitted the word "think"....after don't...


True enough but we are talking about .50 Steyr sniper rifles. Not twenty year old arms deals. The rifles were Steyr rifles, unless the Iranians managed to buy the computer program for the machines to bore the exact holes and groves to the Austrian company's specifications--which is extremely unlikely. Google is a news aggregate anyhow. Being number 1 on Google reflects (a) the number of stories about a particular subject matter and (b) how many times they are mentioned or reference on the web. Even if you are correct, how does a Google ranking affect the validity of a story that broke 36 hours ago? When did Israelis technologically rebuild the mechanics of Steyr rifles and mass produce them for Iranian consumption? Why are these rifles appearing now, as opposed to earlier in the Iraqi conflict, since your implication is that the damn Jews or the Amis sold them to the Iranians?
Enjoy that pre-rational train of thought.
Dont do crazy in the middle of the week.

I have not checked this yet, so this may well be untrue, but a poster on LGF claims that Steyr is a fully owned subsidiary of US arms company General Dynamics and posts a press release supporting his statement.

http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=24426#c0049

To repeat: I have not yet verified this statement.

But LGF tends to be rather conservative.

bob: I never claimed that "the damn Jews" (to quote You) sold said rifles, but gave some historical perspective on arms sales to Iran and the nations involved.

I could be wrong, but the "Steyr" owned by General Dynamics appears to be a different company. The General Dymanic's owned company's full name is Steyr Daimler Puch Spezialfahrzeug Aktiengesellschaft & Company KG. That looks like it is different from the firm that produces the rifles which is named Steyr-Mannlicher. Further, I find it hard to imagine that General Dynamics would ever allow a subsidiary to do this sort of business with Iran considering the potential for massive damage to its US business.

Correct RayD. That was the mistake that I was about to make until I double checked myself. I imagine that acorporation *could* be ignorant for a short while but they would wise up in a hurry.

BTW, it appears that Steyr Mannlicher has locked their website to anyone who requests the english version of their military side. In the US that would come under the heading of the 'appearance of impropriety'.

"If the purpose is to kill the enemy, what difference does it make how it's done?"

Pamela, the concern is not so much about "how" you kill the enemy -- a dead combatant is, well, dead, and presumably does not suffer. The concern is more about what happens if the enemy isn't immediately killed -- what kind of pain and suffering will (s)he endure (as bob discusses)? That's what has led to restrictions on what types of arms and munitions can and cannot be used against people.

After posting my comment, I did some further checking and it seems to be the case that the use of .50 cal weapons against people is not specifically prohibited -- contrary to what I had been taught. My impression of the legality of using .50 caliber weapons on "people" probably stems from the fact that often the .50 ammunition we used was armor-piercing (and always contained tracer rounds). So, rather than worry about what kind of ammo we had at the moment, one was simply taught not to use your .50 cal MG on people -- because it would be "illegal."

It's interesting to note that that "myth" of illegality stills seems prevalent in the US military today. I've read that many soldiers and Marines are still taught that it is, or believe it to be, illegal. Even the recent book "Jarhead" refers to that. It's also interesting to note (and I realize doing so would highlight the illogical nature of this "myth") that smaller caliber weapons often use tracer rounds, too. I don't recall ever being "taught" that it was illegal to use 5.56mm or 7.62mm tracer rounds on people.

UPDATE: I found the following in FM 27-10, The Law of Land Warfare (an old, but apparently still "current" manual):

36. Weapons Employing Fire

The use of weapons which employ fire, such as tracer ammunition, flame throwers, napalm and other incendiary agents, against targets requiring their use is not violative of international law. They should not, however, be employed in such a way as to cause unnecessary suffering to individuals.

So, this "myth" probably stemmed from the "better safe than sorry" mindset -- just don't *intentionally* do it at all (lest you be second-guessed after the fact).

ScottH & bob, thanks. FWIW, Snipers in Iraq
U.S. intelligence agencies have built their own version of the famous Russian-designed AK-47 assault rifle for use by American snipers in Iraq.
The snipers are firing at one form of deadly insurgent and terrorist attack, the so-called "spray and pray" method used by those who try to sow terror by emerging from hiding and firing a machine gun randomly into crowds.
The special U.S. snipers have used .50-caliber long-range rifles for killing terrorists. Now, they are using the modified AK-47s to kill insurgents without a normal shot to the head.
Instead, snipers are killing insurgents with shots to the heart, and creating dissension and doubt in the groups over who is behind the sniping. The 7.62 mm round used by the AK-47 differs from the 7.62 mm sniper round used in normal U.S. sniper ammunition and creates a different wound.

And although the Telegraph story doesn't mention it,
EU Referendum notes that the U.S. imposed sanctions on Austria last December because of this sale.


TO ALL who would send the Austrian Embassy and/or politicians emails regarding this matter:

as someone intimately familiar with how embassies handle this sort of situation, i can tell you now that they have already set their e-mail programs to auto-delete any email with the word "steyr" or "rifle" or whatever. BETTER would be to call your OWN representative(s), who actually give a rat's ass what you think, or at least pretend to, because they're quasi-accountable. The Austrian embassy will take a congressman's complaint a bit more seriously. a bit.

cheers

Oh yeah, and to be honest i would care a whole lot less about this whole thing if Austria wasn't full of such snoveling, holier-than-thou self-proclaimed experts on the ethics of international relations. Austria refuses to take a principled stand on ANYthing, and meanwhile its meaningless population revels in lecturing countries that do. This news represents the epitome of hypocrisy, and it is for that reason that I'm so worked up about it.

talking to a friend yesterday, both of our minds immediately went back to an oft-criticized remark of Bush's awhile ago: if you're not with us, you're against us. well, you know what? it's true, and THIS is exactly what he was talking about.

"... an oft-criticized remark of Bush's awhile ago: if you're not with us, you're against us."

Yes, often criticized, but actually never said. What he did say was "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." But your point still holds up.

Austrian politician Peter Pilz (known for the investigation of the 1989 murder of Kurdish dissidents by I.R. thugs) has a detailed chronology of events. At some point the Austrian politicians got cold feet and prompted the domestiv spy entity (BVT) to okay the deal, what it did. It may well be that Austria has a similiar problem of entanglement between government apparatus and spy entities as it became obvious of Germany in the Murat Kurnaz case.

In the Der Spiegel article linked by Hansharz, Pilz also points out that these weapons may be a bit odd for their declared purpose:

Der österreichische Grünenabgeordnete, Peter Pilz, zugleich Sicherheitssprecher seiner Partei, bezeichnete den Deal als "illegal". Es handele sich nicht wie vielfach behauptet um eine "Spielzeugwaffe", argumentierte Pilz. Vielmehr könne die Waffe aus großen Entfernungen [1.5km] sowohl gepanzerte Fahrzeuge als auch Körperpanzerungen durchschlagen. Ein Einsatz eines solchen Gewehrs im Anti-Drogen-Kampf sei wohl kaum nachzuvollziehen.

In Persia, do they enforce substance prohibition by ambushing suspected trader convoys from a distance? In that case the assumption of common basic interests in the field of narcotics would have to be profoundly rethought.

There also is a translation of the Spiegel article:

Peter Pilz, a Green Party member of the Austrian parliament and his party's spokesman on security issues, even went so far as to call the deal "illegal." Pilz argued that HS .50 was not a "toy weapon," as many had claimed, but that the rifle was in fact capable of piercing armor-plated vehicles and body armor from great distances. The HS .50, according to Pilz, hardly seemed designed for use in fighting the drug trade.

How about a rendition action. Would be nice to see these four characters in orange pajamas in Guantanamo!!!!

One wonders why such people as ones who put a Holocaust denier in prison do not do the same for ones who sell weapons to Holocaust deniers.

In addition, I would like to ask any US, UK, police agencies, and other allies to no longer acquire weapons from Steyr-Mannlicher. Working for such agencies I will be sending an access URL to your article up the line as justification to buy American (Barrett comes to mind, there are others).

I think a boycott of Steyr-Mannlicher is in order here to get their attention (both Austria's and Steyr-Mannlicher's).

I also wonder why in the world would anyone sell weapons to an enemy so rabidly anti-West (I thought Austria was part of the West).

Should people in say Venezuela start facilitating sales of such weapons to such people as Mr. Haider in Austria as a way to bring down the government by force? How would that be any different than the "enlightened" sale of weapons to Iran?

How would Austrians feel if the Radical Muslims in Austria started using the same weapons on Austrians in Austria because Iran shipped some to the local Al Queda outfit? That will come sooner than many think if Iran does not stop following the path they are now on.

Though, the use of a small nuclear weapon (a-bomb like the ones dropped on Hiroshima) by Iran or Iran sponsored terrorists on Vienna is just as likely. Remember the radical Muslims just may think that if they could not take Vienna in the middle ages they might just as well get rid of it and move on to other places, plus their antipathy for Vienna as the seat of the IAEA may very well be another bone of contention.

Austria has no nuclear deterrent so is a prime candidate for nuclear blackmail. Very ugly outcomes come to mind, none of which are good for Austria's survival except as an Islamic vassal state (or maybe a Russian vassal state). Though, Radical Islamists in power is not likely to be nearly as benign as Hitler's take over of Austria, or the Russians in Austria after WWII. Right, those were not in the least benign, but Islamic radicals in power would most certainly be far worse.

Hey, not just US troops killed by the rifles... Considering the uproar over gitmo, how about the families of any alleged drug smugglers killed without a trial? Did they need to be shot vs. arrested? Isn't the death penalty a no no in Euroland? So the Austrians feel entitled to enable this behavior by making a profit by selling weapons?

Heck, if the US had sold sniper rifles to kill Afghan drug smugglers… ahem… I predict it would all be said….

Mike is a US soldier stationed north of Baghdad. He has a little girl, nicknamed Izy, who is almost 2 years old and a baby boy on the way. This weapon makes it more possible that his children will grow up without him!
Jason is also stationed north of Baghdad. His wife is German.
My son is stationed in Baghdad. His wife is also German. They hope to start a family when he gets home.....if he gets home.
This is personal to me.
My husband, after reading this told me he would NEVER visit Europe! NEVER!
How do I express my deep anger about those that say they are our friends, yet, send weapons that could kill Mike, Jason and my son?

I noted above that Eu Referendum posted the U.S. had applied sanctions to Steyr-Mannlicher in December following the sale, but no description of the 'sanctions' was provided.

Today's WSJ does. Steyr-Mannlicher is no longer allowed to bid on any U.S. military contracts.

Ursula Plassnik is completely unqualified to be a foreign minister, much less speak in public as one. She is an example of how a low-quality apparatchik in a small country can get such a position - and then try to play-act as a stateman. What a laugh.


While the Austrians sell weapons to the holocaust-denying Iranians, don't forget that the civil war in Nepal would not be possible without arms supplies (to both sides) from Belgium.

I did get a reply from the Austrian Embassy yesterday. It's here:

Austrian Embassy Replies Concerning sale of Weapons to Iran

Clearly a 'personalized' standard reply, but a reply nonetheless. Too bad they declined to explain why they thought it was OK to kill off suspected drug traffickers, which was the intended use for these weapons.

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