With Iraqi Arms Deal, Russia Fills Void Left by the US

Relations between Moscow and Baghdad continue to warm with a multi-billion-dollar weapons deal. Nidal al-Laythi examines how Russia is quietly filling the void left by the United States in Iraqi arms supplies.

al-monitor Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) welcomes Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow October 10, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Kirril Kudryavtsev.

Topics covered

weapons, russia, arms sales, arms

Oct 10, 2012

Russia’s Council of Ministers issued a press release on the meeting held by Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is currently on a visit to Russia.

The press release said that Iraq has signed arms deals worth over $4.2 billion with Russia during the second half of 2012. The deal was described by observers as the biggest move to help the Russian arms industry avoid recession after it lost its markets in Libya and Syria.

It marks the biggest single weapons transaction Moscow has conducted for 30 years, except for deals with Algeria and Venezuela.

MP Hakim al-Zamili, a member of the security and defense committee in the Iraqi parliament, told Azzaman that the Russian arms deal, signed by the Iraqi prime minister during his visit to Moscow, includes the purchase of anti-aircraft missiles and radar systems that will be installed in the Kurdistan region to address violations by Turkish aircraft of Iraqi airspace as part of their operations against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is carrying out military operations against the Turkish army from and through Iraqi territory.

Zamili added that the deal also includes the provision of MiG-29 aircraft and medium and light weapons. He noted that the deal provides for Russian experts to come to Iraq to train officers on air-defense systems and radar.

There have been no official statements from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) regarding the deployment of new Russian arms in the region. But incidents in recent months have shown that the KRG rejects the entry of Iraqi army forces into areas adjacent to the region and into disputed areas such as Mosul and Kirkuk.

Zamili said that the United States was delaying the implementation of agreements such as the deals on F-16 aircraft and air-defense systems. He said that the United States wants to protect Israel in the event that Israeli aircraft launch a strike on Iran through Iraq's airspace.

In an interview with Azzaman, Zamili said that the arms deal with Russia comes as a result of demands to diversify the sources of arms and the American delay in implementing the arms deals signed with Iraq, despite its implementation of the deals struck with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

He added that Iraq used to have the world's sixth largest army, but is today the weakest military in the region.

“We need to arm [ourselves] to protect our oil wealth after the [Iraqi] military infrastructure was destroyed,” Zamili said. 

He added that the Russian missiles and radar will be set up inside the Kurdistan region following approval by the region’s government, or on the region’s borders to monitor Turkish and Iranian violations.

Turkish aircraft are regularly bombing PKK camps in Northern Iraq, claiming that PKK militants are infiltrating the border to carry out attacks against the Turkish army, border guards and Kurdish groups backed by the Turkish government.

Zamili added that the US has only implemented a number of deals with Iraq on an air-defense system and radar.

“We received radar systems that were installed in the Al-Taji and Al-Nasiriyah bases, and they only cover 40-50% of the Iraqi territories,” he said. “As for the contracts concerning anti-aircraft missiles, we have not received any of those and Iraq cannot defend its airspace.”

Zamili said that the Americans did not adhere to the contracts it had signed with Iraq on a missile system.

He said that there was US procrastination in implementing the F-16 deal, whereby the Americans specified the airports they were to be deployed in and the number of sorties to be made.

Zamili attributed the delay to Washington's desire to provide protection for Israeli aircraft should Israel decide to launch a strike on Iran through Iraqi airspace.

The Russian press release said that Deputy Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi and Iraqi military experts visited Russia last April and again in July and August.

During their meeting in Moscow, Maliki invited Medvedev to visit Baghdad, saying Medvedev’s visit “will give impetus to the development of bilateral relations.”

For his part, Medvedev said that Russia was keen to maintain friendly relations with Iraq, adding that the Russian leadership is keen to protect relations with the Iraqi leadership.

He expressed confidence that this keenness will help to develop friendship, cooperation and understanding between Russia and Iraq.

Medvedev suggested that he and Maliki discuss a road map for the development of bilateral relations in all fields. Maliki underlined the need for the Iraqi-Russian ministerial committee to continue its work and hold regular meetings.

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