On November 10 there was contradictory official news coming from Baghdad on an arms purchase deal concluded by Iraq with Russia a few months ago. Some top Iraqi officials said the contract was cancelled because Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki got suspicious over transparency on the Russia’s side. Other, no less high standing, big shots denied it saying “everything was going its way”. Finally, the third group of officials related to arms deals said there was a possibility the deal was suspended over “corruption” suspicions and a new visit of Iraqi officials to Moscow was under consideration to change the agreement conditions.
As is known arms deals are delicate issues but this time a lot had been prepared in advance. For instance, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov paid a working visit to Baghdad in May 2011. According to official information, military cooperation was part of the agenda. After the talks with the Russian official Iraqi President Jalal Talabani confirmed that Iraq intended to buy Russian weapons because they were cheap and reliable.
Iraqi delegations came to Moscow in April, July and August, including the one headed by acting Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi. There was a number of weapons contracts signed during those meetings. At the beginning of October Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki came to Russia with a working visit. He was met by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Russia media outlets came out with rosy reports about “many billion deals” and boosting relations with Iraq, a former Moscow’s strategic partner in the Middle East and a key actor in world affairs. In particular 30 MI-28N attack helicopters and Pantsir-S1 short-to-medium range ground based air defense systems $ 4.2 billion purchase deal was mentioned, as well as prospects for selling a number of MIG—29M/M2 fighters and heavy armored vehicles.
While in Moscow the Prime Minister told Vesti V Subbotu (News on Saturday), Russia-1 TV channel news program, that when the US soldiers were on its soil, Iraq sent a delegation to make an arms deal to Moscow. Nothing came out of it then. But, as to Mr. Maliki, it was a good thing the events in Iraq were followed by Russia and it understood that when the Iraqis say yes, they really mean it, the same way when the say no. It was startling when the information on the deal’s cancelation appeared a month ago: the “unusual news” itself and the way it was made known was a complete surprise for Moscow. Baghdad significantly reduced the possibilities of resorting to diplomatic courtesies because actually the news acquired the tint of scandal. The first reaction from Moscow was the RIA – Novosti report citing an anonymous top defense industry official saying the deal was annulled under the US pressure as Washington is “trying to prevent the implementation of Russian-Iraqi agreements.” Indeed, that’s what is beyond any doubt. There is a very intriguing chronology worth to be mentioned:
• On October 10 the Iraqi Prime Minister said in Moscow the USA would not be able to block the arms purchase contract. He said Iraq didn’t consult anyone concerning weapons, oil or politics. Its foreign policy followed its own interests.
– On October 19 Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter came to Iraq to meet Iraq's Prime Minster and acting Minister of Defense “to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to strengthening security and defense”. He emphasized the important role of Iraq in regional stability and noted that “U.S.-Iraqi cooperation on matters of mutual strategic interest continues to be more vital than ever”. Acting Defense Minister Sadoon al-Dulaimi added that air defense systems and Apache attack helicopters purchase agreement was part of the agenda;
– On November 8 Premier Maliki told Al Rasheed satellite TV channel, “We seek on making American weaponry to become base for Iraq’s Army’s main armament.”
– On November 10 the news came from Baghdad the arms deal with Russia was annulled;
– On November 15 Nouri Al-Maliki and the Commander of US Central Forces Gen. James Mattis confirmed “the need to continue the implementation of the strategic framework agreement between Iraq and the United States, especially in the field of military cooperation and armaments. “
A short look at history. By the end 1980s Iraqi military were the most powerful force in the region. The strength was around 1 million, Soviet-produced weapons systems made up over 60% of Army inventory and about half of Air Force aircraft and air defense systems (it’s worth to note in 1990 the Iraqi Air Force was the sixth in the world from point of view of combat aircraft strength, including rather modern aircraft like MIG-25, MIG-29 and SU-24). Every third army aviation rotary wing aircraft was made in the Soviet Union. China, France, Brazil, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Germany were its main arms suppliers too. The picture has dramatically changed since then. In 2003 Iraq was occupied by the USA engaged in “global fight against terrorism”. The Iraqi Armed Forces didn’t exist anymore. Since then all key decisions were taken by United States itself, then a formal power transition followed under US control. Naturally it influences the arms supplies policy. As a victor the USA exercises full control over the decisions in this sphere and decides who and to what extent is “to have access to the pie”.
Today the USA has over 40 arms contracts with Iraq totaling over $13 billion… The largest deal is the purchase of 36 F-16IQ fighters (Iraqi pilots are already going through a training course in the USA). They will be the first jets in the new Iraqi Air Force, before that (2007-2010) the Unites States had delivered 30 (Cessna AC-208, SB7L-360A и King Air 350ER) turboprop engine aircraft for reconnaissance missions, 15 Т-6А advanced trainer aircraft and transport cargo planes, including two big С-130Е and 24 light King Air 350Es. The Army of the “new Iraq” received 140 Abrams М1А1М tanks as well as 8500 Humvee (HMMWV) multipurpose military automobiles (obsolete vehicles brought out of the US army inventory for being too vulnerable to mines and improvised explosive devices. The price paid by Iraq was $ 200 million). Only in three years the arms supplies from the US totaled $6.6 billion or 85% of all weapons imported by Iraq. Ukraine has become the second arms supplier with $2.4 billion. The Ukrainian experts note Washington played an important role in making the choice. As early as in October 2004 Iraq and Ukraine signed a bilateral defense cooperation agreement. Right after the first $78 million contract to deliver around 2000 KrAZ trucks was concluded. In 2006 Iraq purchased 50 armored vehicles from Ukraine, in 2007 it delivered to Iraq 110 BMP-1 amphibious tracked infantry fighting vehicles taken out of storage facilities. Some kind of an improvised East European “consortium” appeared under the aegis of Ukraine for the purpose of arms supplies to Iraq, including the so-called Ukrainian-Polish BTR-80 wheeled amphibious armored personnel carrier) (the obsolete Soviet BTR-80s were upgraded in Nikolaev and delivered to Iraq as new). In June 2005 Iraqi Ministry of Defense ordered 115 such vehicles (under a $30 million contract). In November 2006 the Hungarian Ministry of Interior transported 66 BTR-80s to Nikolaev to be upgraded to BTR-80 UP version of various modifications. Then the vehicles were delivered to Iraqi Army.
On October 19 2008 the United States-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership was signed. As part of the deal the US agreed to finance Ukrainian arms supplies to Iraq from the US funds allocated for Iraqi Armed Forces rearmament. There was a $457.5 million agreement concluded by the end of 2009 on armored vehicles delivery to Iraq. Ukraine got a right to deliver 420 BTR-4E armor vehicles: 270 combat (armed with 30mm automatic cannon ZTM-1), 80 command (same as IFV but with extra radios), 30 staff (for commanders, without turret), 30 ambulance,10 repair and recovery (the last vehicles from the batch were delivered on April 4).
On November 15, 2011 a ceremony devoted to the delivery of the first of six ordered An-32B transport aircraft (part of an $80 million contract) was held in Baghdad. According to media reports there was a contract concluded to deliver 150 T-80 UD and Oplot main battle tanks along with the Ukrainian responsibility for repair and upgrade of armor vehicles and other weapons. The third supplier is the Czech Republic. In 2010 there was a preliminary agreement on delivery of L-159s. The 24 Aero L-159 ALCA training aircraft purchase contract was signed in October 2012. It was a billion dollar deal. According to Iraqi sources the first four aircraft were to be delivered gratuitously in the 7 month to follow. The Czech Republic is followed by Serbia. The country’s arms supplies to Iraq equaled to $335 million in the period of 2008-2011, including 20 Lasta training aircraft, mortars of various calibers and ammunition. The sale of Lazar armored personnel carrier is in talks. The way Serbia became a major arms supplier for Iraqi Armed Forces has intriguing nuances. In 2009 the Serbian Ministry of Defense said there were 19 MIG-21 and MIG-23 Iraqi planes in the country. They got there in 1989 for repair and the deal was fully paid. The aircraft never got back because of international sanctions. An Iraqi delegation under Lt. Gen. Anwar Hamad Amin went to Belgrade to discuss the return of planes. Muhammed Al-Askari, an Iraqi Ministry of Defense official, said then the aircraft were needed because the Air Force had no attack or defense capable jets at the time. According to Serbian independent B-92 TV channel, Belgrade promised to immediately transport back two of the planes while the others were to be returned in an urgent manner. But the deal didn’t meet the US plans, so no MIG aircraft was returned to Iraq. Instead Serbia got a right to deliver training planes (some experts say it was in return for softening its stance on Kosovo). Other states of the former “socialist block”, that have become active NATO members, were allowed by Washington to get profit from weapon sales to Iraq. For instance, in 2006 Iraq received 70 T-72 tanks from Hungary. The tanks had been upgraded by US Defense Solutions company, including new fire control, night vision and communications equipment. On May 31, 2012 Bulgaria signed an around 77 million euro contract for the sale of 500 MT-LB multirole tracked armored vehicles to Iraq (the Soviet vehicles are produced by TEREM facility in Targovishte) The first vehicle has been delivered to Iraq for field tests.
Now what about Russia, the second largest arms supplier after the USA, the country that had strong positions in all Arab states, including Iraq? There are media reports on helicopters delivered by Russia to Iraq in 2011. True, there are 22 Ulan-Ude aviation planet built MI-17E and 16 Kazan helicopter plant built MI-17B helicopters in Iraq. It’s a typical and revealing story. In December 2007 US Arinc (Aeronautical Radio Incorporated) received an order from the US Defense Department to implement an out of competition contract that envisaged the purchase and delivery of 22 Russia produced helicopters to Iraq within the framework of FMS (U.S. Foreign Military Sales). The choice was MI-171, a modification of MI-8). It was supposed to rapidly arm Iraq with cheap and reliable basic version of the helicopter, upgrade the aircraft according to US Department of Defense standards and save money at the expense of personnel training. $322 million were allocated for the purpose, the start of deliveries was slated for February 2009. Being the chief supplier of Russian helicopters to Iraq, Arinc brought in Russian Air Freight Aviation (the company is created in 2000 in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates, it mainly deals with NATO, the US Central Command, the Bundeswehr etc.). It was to convert the aircraft into CT (counter terrorism) version by installing arms, fire control, communication and navigation systems. Along with the fact that the Russian license export came late, the scheme led to over one year delivery delay, the over – expenditure was $ 24 million (as a result the final price tag exceeded $15 million per helicopter). Arms trade, repair, maintenance and personnel training somehow are modestly called military – technical cooperation. At that, for leading powers with powerful military – industrial complex (no doubt Russia is the one) it’s not only a financial –economic notion, but rather leverage for boosting geopolitical influence. The very status of world power presupposes the strategic interests of state are not limited by its national boundaries. These interests are defended in fierce competition. I’m sorry to say that quite often Russia loses and it’s not only benefit lost or reputation damaged that is in question.
President Vladimir Putin visited Saudi Arabia in February 2007. According to media reports in October the same year the both countries signed a $2 billion agreement on the delivery of 150 MI-35 and MI-17 Russian helicopters. In 2010 the Russian Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) reported there was a $4-6 billion air defense, armor and helicopters acquisition package agreed on. No information has come to light if at least a part of the deal is in force and being implemented. Since then Saudi Arabia signed contacts that have already started to be brought into life for the sum of $57 billion, but it’s not Russia but the USA who is making profit. Russia has lost the Libyan market completely and for a long time, Indian tenders bring one failure after another, the list can continued….
In its time “Politics is the art of the possible” was the favorite phrase of Michael Gorbachev.
Perhaps it seemed to him to be a streamline and meaningful phase that allows explaining any results by maintaining “high standards”. In reality this phrase means the following: politics (if effective) can deal only with reality, with achievable goals, everything that lies beyond the limits of what is possible is not politics, it’s wishful thinking and empty words. Originally the phrase sounded as “politics is teaching about what is possible” and it belongs to Otto Eduard Leopold Bismarck – the man who is known in history as the ”iron chancellor”.