Iraq cancels €3.3bn Russia arms package
Baghdad cancelled a €3.3 billion arms package with Russia yesterday citing graft concerns and instead opted for new talks, ending a deal that would have made Moscow Iraq’s second-biggest arms supplier.
In a bizarre sequence, however, the acting defence minister who negotiated the deal directly contradicted the prime minister’s office, insisting nothing had been cancelled, a position that was swiftly denied by the premier’s spokesman.
Officials said negotiations were ongoing for a new arms package.
But a cancellation of the initial deal announced last month is a setback for Moscow’s attempts to firm up its slipping foothold in the Middle East and also throws into doubt efforts by Iraq to equip its armed forces.
“The deal was cancelled,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s spokesman Ali Mussawi said.
“When Maliki returned from his trip to Russia, he had some suspicions of corruption, so he decided to review the whole deal... There is an investigation going on, on this.”
Mussawi declined to say who specifically was being investigated, or when a final decision was made to stop the deal, announced during a visit by Maliki to Moscow in October.
In a hastily-organised press conference, however, acting Defence Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi insisted no deal had been cancelled, telling reporters: “We are still in negotiations.”
Dulaimi said no contracts had been signed, adding: “We did not transfer one dinar, we did not agree in a finalised way. It was only an offer, like any other offer.”
Asked about the mini-ster’s remarks, Mussawi said simply: “The deal was completely cancelled.”
“Now we have started new negotiations (with Moscow) because we want weapons,” he said.
“These negotiations will be for different kinds of weapons, more advanced weapons, and will use a different way of contracting,” Mussawi added, without giving details.
The Russian embassy in Baghdad was not available for comment but a source in Moscow pinned the blame on Washington.
“Iraq’s declaration was forced by the US, which is trying to avert this agreement’s implementation,” an unnamed senior official identified as being a member of the Russian military industry told the state RIA Novosti news agency.
Mussawi denied that US pressure played any role.
Had the announced deal, valued at more than €3.3 billion, been finalised and implemented, it would have made Russia Baghdad’s biggest arms supplier after the US.
Russian media said the deliveries covered 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems.