MOSCOW, November 13 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) – Iraq denied on Tuesday that its decision to suspend a $4.2-billion arms deal with Russia had been taken after consultations with the United States.
“We are a sovereign state and we would not give into pressure,” a spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told RIA Novosti by telephone from Baghdad. “What’s more, there was no pressure from Washington,” added the spokesman, Ali Musawi.
The landmark deal for Russia to supply attack helicopters and mobile air-defense systems to the Middle East country was announced after Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki met his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, in Moscow in early October.
The deal was hailed by Kremlin-controlled media as the largest involving Moscow since 2006 and would have made Russia the biggest arms supplier to Iraq after the United States, which has sold Baghdad billions of dollars in weapons since the 2003 invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
But the agreement was thrown into confusion on Saturday, when Maliki’s office said the deal had been scrapped over concerns about corruption.
A highly-placed Defense Ministry source told RIA Novosti after the Iraqi statement that the United States was “behind” Baghdad’s decision. Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport has declined to comment on the deal.
“It’s only natural to expect that the Americans wouldn’t be happy about the deal,” said Saleh A. Jabar, head of the Beirut-based Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank. “They have strategic interests there and were looking forward to selling weapons to Iraq and training Iraqi soldiers.”
The announcement of the deal in early October came as the United States warned Maliki to halt Iranian flights carrying weapons through Iraqi airspace to beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Maliki is a member of Islam’s minority faith, Shia, the state religion in Iran.
And the deal was shrouded in yet more uncertainty on Monday when Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that the country’s security council had formed a new committee to renegotiate the deal, a statement confirmed by the Defense Ministry on Tuesday.
“We are continuing with the deal with a new committee as the old one was compromised by allegations of corruption,” Defense Ministry spokesman Musawi told RIA on Tuesday. “We really need these weapons.”
Iraq expert Jabar suggested that the deal could have been frozen over a disagreement among “corrupt” Iraqi officials over “who would get the commission” for the deal.
Russian media said the purported deal involved 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems. Discussions were also believed to be taking place for Iraq to acquire a large batch of MiG-29 fighters.
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