Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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UAE Moves (Hesitantly) on Bout
The United Arab Emirates has, in recent days, grounded all flights of Irbiss Air, one of Viktor Bout's flagship airlines that was banned by the United Nations but continued to fly unimpeded despite that minor inconvenience.

Sources on the ground in Sharjah confirm what the U.S. Embassy in the UAE recently transmitted to the State Department-that Irbiss, which continued to post flights on the Sharjah airport without even changing its name, was being shut down and its aircraft grounded. The UN action to designate Bout's companies and freeze his assets came last December, but had not be heeded by UAE. Of course, it had not been heeded by contractors working for the U.S. military either, who continued to hire Bout aircraft despite the fact such contracts are illegal.

The primary reason for the move against Irbiss, my sources said, was the UAE's embarssment of letting Bout continue to fly despite years of international requests to shut him down. Bout's close business relationship with the Taliban and his ferrying weapons to that despotic regime, which shared the weapons with al Qaeda, did not seem to bother the UAE leaders.

But Bout's flagrant violation of the UN sanctions, and the attention it has brought conflicted sharply with UAE's efforts to convince Congress and the American public that it was a reliable partner in fighting terrorism and could be trusted with managing U.S. ports. Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY) and others raised the issue of Bout in hearings last week, serving notice that the Bout issue could be seen as part of a larger picture of UAE's behavior.

What remains unclear is what the UAE's actions actually mean. Are the aircraft permantly confiscated? Will they be allowed to be reassigned to one of Bout's multiple other shell companies in Sharjah that continue to fly? Is the action real or symbolic?

It will take more than grounding some aircraft to significantly dent Bout's operations. But taking the most obvious first step and taking some aircraft at least sets a precedent for future enforcement.

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