Iran has broken trade embargos to sell small arms ammunition to Africa, according to a new research report by the Conflict Armament Research (CAR) group.
Iranian small arms ammunition has turned up in nine African countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Guinea, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.
The CAR report, published in December, is the culmination of six years of research. Entitled “The Distribution of Iranian Ammunition in Africa,” it details 14 different cases of Iranian ammunition in Africa, of which ten cases involve ammunition circulating in illicit markets. The ammunition has been found in use by warring civilian communities in Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda, with government forces in Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya and Sudan, and militia groups in Cote d’Ivoire, Darfur, the DRC, South Sudan and Niger.
Three different types of Iranian ammunition are circulating in Africa: two types of Russian standard 7.62 x 39 mm and NATO standard 7.62 x 54 mm calibre ammunition. They are believed to come from the Iranian Defence Industries Organisation (DIO) Ammunition and Metallurgical Industries Group (AMIG).
Most of the ammunition documented in the report was manufactured in the last decade, with the majority produced in 2002-2003. It has been disseminated by African governments – “whether as a result of loss, theft or deliberate policies of arming civilians and insurgent forces,” the report said.
Iranian ammunition is in varied use across Africa. “In the case of national defence and security forces, there is clear evidence that Iranian ammunition is in service with Guinean, Ivorian and Kenyan forces. There is also growing evidence to suggest that Sudan’s security forces also deploy Iranian materiel – evidenced by extensive supplies to armed groups in Darfur and South Sudan, and ammunition found in positions vacated by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) in southern Sudan.”
Rebels in Darfur, South Sudan, Cote d’Ivoire and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) affiliates in Niger have all gotten hold of Iranian ammunition. Meanwhile, civilians in Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda possess Iranian ammunition. “The diversion of weapons and ammunition from government forces to civilian markets is a persistent and well-documented problem in Africa,” the CAR report said.
The report could only pinpoint one case as being in clear violation of United Nations arms embargoes – the 2010 importation of ammunition from Iran into Nigeria. (Since 2007 the UN has prohibited Iran from exporting weapons.) In October 2010 Nigerian security forces discovered 13 shipping containers containing 240 tonnes of ammunition, including 107 mm rockets, 60, 80 and 120 mm mortar ammunition, grenades and 7.62 x 54R ammunition made in Iran. Iran’s Nigerian ambassador stated the shipment had originated from Bandar Abbas in Iran.
“The report concludes that Iran is a recent supplier of ammunition to Africa. Despite this, its ammunition ‘footprint’ in the continent is widespread. The 14 cases presented in this report are evidence of this alone and indicate that ammunition circulates in conflict-affected regions stretching from East to West Africa.”
The report singles out Sudan as a consistent receiver of Iranian ammunition, as well as weapons and equipment. The CAR report said that Sudan is supplying various armed forces in Darfur and Sudan, but with weapons and equipment as well as ammunition. “There also appears to be increasing cooperation between Khartoum and Tehran in the defence sector, including in the field of weapons production.” The CAR investigation also found that Burkina Faso disseminated ammunition to rebels in Cote d’Ivoire. “The fact that Iranian ammunition appears to proliferate in the Sahara/Sahel region in addition to East and West Africa is noteworthy.”
The CAR report also said there was ‘clear evidence’ of Iran’s role in supplying a range of other ordnance to Africa, including mines, explosive light weapons, and larger conventional arms and ammunition such as 107 mm rockets.
“The report notes that African arms markets are evolving, with new suppliers and new supply vectors—both legal and illicit. Exporters such as China (and to a lesser extent Iran) appear to be heavily involved in the supply of weapons to African states that are embroiled in armed conflicts,” the report said.
It also pointed out the role that African governments in redistributing and proliferating weapons across Africa. “Investigations in this report profile ongoing problems associated with either the loss or theft of weapons from government arsenals or deliberate government arms supplies to neighbouring insurgencies. These two factors make African governments the primary indirect sources, not only of Iranian ammunition circulating on illicit markets, but arms and ammunition from a host of other manufacturers.”
“However, the international community is currently hampered in its responses to illicit weapons proliferation, primarily because it lacks the monitoring capacity to understand illicit transfers fully and, on this basis, to develop appropriate counter-proliferation strategies. The report calls for international donors to invest greater resources in field-based investigations.”
Oxfam says 12 billion bullets are produced every year by an industry worth over $4 billion.