The highest previous estimate of missing weapons was 14,000, but a new report from the government accountability office (GAO) said US military officials did not know what had happened to 30% of the weapons the US had given to Iraqi forces since 2004.
"They really have no idea where they are," Rachel Stohl, a senior analyst at the Centre for Defence Information, told the Washington Post, which reported the GAO's findings. "It likely means that the United States is unintentionally providing weapons to bad actors."
The US has spent $19.2bn (£9.4bn) trying to develop Iraqi security forces since 2003, including at least $2.8bn on buying and delivering equipment, according to the GAO. However, the watchdog said, weapons distribution was rushed and failed to follow established procedures, particularly in 2004 and 2005. During that period, security training was led by General David Petraeus, now the top US commander in Iraq.
A senior Pentagon official told the paper some of the weapons were probably being used against US forces, pointing to the Iraqi brigade created at Falluja, which quickly disintegrated in September 2004 and turned its weapons against the Americans.
The GAO reached the estimate of 190,000 missing weapons -110,000 AK-47s and 80,000 pistols - by comparing the records of the Multi-National Security Transition Command for Iraq against records Gen Petraeus maintained of the arms and equipment he had ordered. Gen Petraeus's figures were compared with classified data and other records. In all cases the gaps were enormous, the Washington Post reported.
During the Bosnian conflict in the 1990s, the US provided about $100m of equipment to the Bosnian Federation Army. The GAO found no problems in accounting for those weapons.
Daily Show on Missing Iraqi Weapons: Coincidence? Or Profound Incompetence? In the wake of this weeks report detailing hundreds of thousands of missing weapons in Iraq, Jon Stewart takes a look back at all the other things that have gone mysteriously missing in the “magic hat” of Iraq.
[Click on pic for video.] "According to General Patreaus, it’s all a simple clerical error. Phew! I was worried there for a second that nearly 200,000 guns went missing in a country filled with people who would like to use them to kill American soldiers. See, everything in Iraq really is going well."