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5.21.2004

The Company We Keep  
Victor Bout, who sold arms to Charles Taylor, Jonas Savimbi and Mobutu, has turned up in Iraq. But while the notorious merchant of death is wanted in Africa, he has some poweful patrons and protectors in his new zone of operations: the U.S. and Britain. This report has more on our newest partner in "rebuilding" Iraq:
Today the United States and Britain are using his extensive mercenary services in Iraq. The condemnation of his role in the diamond wars and other conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa over the past ten years is being silently erased.

The Tajikstan-born Bout would be an embarrassing ally to acknowledge publicly. But the coalition partners are showing him exceptional favours as he does some of their job for them.

The UN Security Council drafted a resolution in March to freeze the assets of mercenaries and weapons dealers who backed ousted Liberian dictator Charles Taylor. Bout should top that list, French diplomatic sources say. But the diplomats and UN sources say the United States has been working to keep Bout off that list.

U.S. officials have indicated unofficially that the reason is that Bout is useful in Iraq, the sources told IPS.

One of Bout's many companies is providing logistical support to U.S. forces in Iraq, well-placed French diplomatic sources say. His private airline British Gulf is supplying goods to the occupation forces, they say.

For more, check out the PBS program "Frontline WORLD"'s website on illegal gun running to Sierra Leone and Bout's role in it.