BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. troops walked into a two-story house in an enclave of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party on Friday and discovered boxes of Italian pistols, Soviet-era Kalashnikovs and American-made rifles still wrapped in plastic, along with an inventory that said they belonged to the president's son, Odai.
A log book in the Baghdad house had a page that read "Odai Hussein's Weapons Store." U.S. soldiers pocketed pistols and knives they said were rare collectibles until they were told to put the weapons back.
Loose ammunition of all types and calibers covered the ground in the Baghdad house, spilling out of hundreds of crates. The cache included a small anti-aircraft gun, stacks of Kalashnikovs, sniper rifles, machines guns and brand-new U.S. and Austrian assault rifles, many wrapped in factory plastic.
The Austrian rifles were still in their cardboard shipping boxes from the Steyr Mannlicher Aktiengesellschaft in Steyr, Austria.
The 5.56 mm rifles had been sent to "Off. of HRH Pr. Abdullah Bin Al-Hussein; Special Op. Command; Jordan Armed Forces; P.O. Box 848 Amman," the shipping papers said.
How they reached Baghdad, or when, could not be determined, but these particular still-in-the-box weapons looked new enough to have been manufactured after a U.N. arms embargo was placed on Iraq.
Boxes of ammunition and weapons discovered in southern Iraq by American forces in the first days of the war bore the address of the Jordan Armed Forces.
In Jordan, government officials scoffed at the idea the weapons found Friday were supplied to Iraq after the imposition of U.N. sanctions in 1990.
"If there was something found, it could've been very old, much before 1990," one official told The Associated Press.
"In the Arab world, it's common to exchange gifts, and the boxes said to be found -- which are apparently of a trivial quantity -- are very much in line with that custom," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Baghdad house had been looted by Iraqi civilians before the Americans arrived. Hundreds of empty Berreta pistol boxes littered the street and covered the floors.
At least a dozen Bushmaster XM-15 rifles, knockoffs of the U.S. Army's M16A4 and M4 assault rifles, and dozens of boxes of Colt Diamondback revolvers, were also in the collection.
The most valuable weapons were antique muskets in presentation cases. There were also dozens of knives and swords, many gold-plated.
Soldiers marveled at the collectible editions of common military weapons, German-made G3s, Kalashnikovs and gold- and silver-plated M-1 Carbines.
"I wish I had never seen this," said Capt. Chris Carter of Watkinsville, Ga. "I'll never be able to look at my gun collection the same way again."
The front page of the log book said Odai's weapons store was managed by Sameer Abel Hadi Hamed of the Special Security Service. A sample entry from Nov. 12, 2001, registered the arrival of "one 7.62 mm Tariq pistol in red box, in good condition."
One U.S. sniper found parts that fit his Remington rifle and picked up a new case for his.
U.S. commanders quickly sealed off the building and ordered troops to return any weapons they had taken. With a collective sigh, soldiers emptied their pockets of pistols and knives, putting them back in the building to be destroyed.
Soldiers took turns handling guns, including a fully automatic 12-gauge shotgun known among gangs in the United States as "street sweepers" and expensive shotguns designed for hunting and combat.
"I'm a shotgun man, and I know shotguns. That is one hell of a shotgun," 1st Sgt. Cedric Burns of Sylvania, Ga., said of an Italian-made Franchi, S.P.A.S. 12, mounted with a pistol grip for military use.