EventThe prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, recently visited Russia and the Czech Republic, in the context of US$5.2bn worth of arms deals with the two countries.
The Iraqi military has substantial deficiencies with its hardware, as well as its operational capabilities. The US has been Iraq’s principal supplier of weapons, with contracts worth US$12.3bn under way, according to a US spokesperson. However, Iraq is looking to diversify its supply base, and its political alliances.
During Mr Maliki’s three-day visit to Russia, where he met the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, and the president, Vladimir Putin, it was announced that US$4.2bn of contracts had been signed between the two countries over the previous six months. Full details have not emerged, but the purchases are believed to include Mi-28 attack helicopters, Pantsir air defence systems and mobile rocket launchers-some of the most advanced Russian military technology. There are also talks under way about purchases of fighter jets and armoured vehicles. In addition, Mr Maliki visited the Czech Republic. The main Czech sales are 28 L-159 subsonic combat jets, produced by Aero Vodochody, for US$1bn.
The Russia deal demonstrates a clear shift in the bilateral relationship, which was strained in the early years of post-Saddam Iraq, as Mr Putin had opposed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and was initially unwilling to relieve Iraq’s Soviet-era debt. This shift is not without controversy for Iraq given that Russia has been supportive of the Syrian and Iranian regimes and Iraq has close ties with Iran and Syria. Moreover, the Russian sales do not include prohibitions on end use, unlike US arms, which has caused consternation among Iraqi Kurds who are concerned about Mr Maliki’s growing control over the military against a backdrop of tense relations between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government.
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