KIRKUK, Iraq - Equipment plundered from dozens of sites in Saddam Hussein's vast complex for manufacturing weapons is beginning to surface in open markets in Iraq's major cities and at border crossings.
Looters stormed the sites two years ago when Hussein's government fell, and the fate of much of the equipment has remained a mystery.
But on a recent day, pieces of large machine tools that investigators say formed the heart of a factory that made artillery shells near Baghdad were resting in great chunks on a weedy lot in front of an Iraqi Border Patrol warehouse in Munthriya, on the Iranian border. Military equipment, including parts for obscure armaments used by Hussein's army, is also turning up in Baghdad and Mosul in the north, they say.
For more than a year, large quantities of scrap metal from some of the sites have routinely been filling the scrap yards of Iraq and neighboring countries like Jordan. But with this emergence of a panoply of intact factory, machine and vehicle parts, it appears that some looters may have held back the troves they stole two years ago, waiting for prices to rise.
"Spare parts? A lot of them come from the market in Baghdad," said Staff Sgt. William Larock, a U.S. reservist in a division out of Rochester, N.Y., who is stationed near Munthriya and coordinating repairs of some of Hussein's old troop carriers to be used for the new Iraqi army.
Larock said that some of his repairs to the vehicles, which Hussein bought from a manufacturer in Brazil, were being delayed because the asking price on the highly specialized wheels - clearly stolen long ago from those same vehicles - was too high. "That's why these things are sitting on blocks," he said with a faint smile.
Interviews with people who identified themselves as arms dealers or members of the resistance in Baghdad, Fallujah and other Iraqi cities indicate that a parallel black market operates in the explosives looted from some of the same sites. That market remains clandestine, but the thriving open market points to its likely pervasiveness, scale and sophistication.
Sketchy descriptions by members of the Iraqi resistance suggest that the arms market is a highly developed enterprise with brokers, buyers and looters who have stockpiled their products, including artillery shells, mortar rounds and Kalashnikov rifles.
Witnesses described looters of varying degrees of sophistication, including local people who stormed the sites in search of precious metals after Hussein's fall and highly organized operations that arrived with cranes and semitrailer trucks.