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The Iraqi Government Is Scrambling For Weapons

September 2, 2014

Iraqi Army Day

Like the rest of the Middle East, unstable Iraq cultivates a huge appetite for weapons.

Despite the Islamic State’s (IS) onslaught and the almost total dissolution of the regular armed forces, Baghdad continues to pay for planes, helicopters, and munitions.

This July, weeks after Mosul fell to the IS, Defense Minister Saadun al-Duleimi was in Moscow shopping for arms and unspecified “technical support.” Russian pilots are now believed to be flying Iraqi planes on combat missions.

It was also in July when the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) pushed through with an estimated half-a-billion dollars to sustain Iraq’s growing fleet of helicopters with missiles and spare parts.

Though bogged down by a grueling civil war and its own sectarian fissures, Iraq’s security forces spent a whole decade (2004-present) arming itself against internal threats.

Even before the US withdrew in 2011, Iraq’s weapons shopping was massive.

In 2009 the government paid for 500 BTR-series APCs from Ukraine. A first batch of 1,036 additional M113A2 APCs began to arrive from 2010 to 2013. More importantly, by 2011 Iraq’s armored forces were augmented by 140 M1A1 MBTs, being the fourth country in the world to use the vaunted tanks, and an estimated 77 refurbished T-72’s.

More US weaponry was purchased that same year, including 36 F-16’s for the Iraqi air force.

A Counter-Terrorist Arsenal

The largest transaction, reaching $4.2 billion, was with Russia in 2012. The amount paid for 30 Mi-28N Night Hunter attack helicopters, 42 Pantsir anti-aircraft systems, and a half dozen Mi-35 gunships.

That same year, a relatively modest $77 million bought 500 MTLB APCs from Bulgaria.

By 2014, Iraq began to unravel…and the frequency of arms sales inadvertently reflected the panic of Prime Minister Maliki’s regime.

Two dozen AH-64E Apaches with spare parts were sold to Iraq in March. Beechcraft AT-6C Texan II ground-attack propeller aircraft and 200 Humvees were sold to Iraq in May. Additional Su-25’s from Russia arrived in June.

US Beechcraft Texan II

Beechcraft Texan II

The IS’ resurgence compelled Iran to send whatever support it could afford. Localized Shiite militias, unknown quantities of small arms, tanks, and the Revolutionary Guard’s own Su-25’s were rushed into the maelstrom. So was Qasem Suleimani, the enigmatic leader of the Quds Force.

Just as the Iraqi Ministry of Defense (MoD) was scrambling for Russian fighter jets, a separate deal was finalized with Czech Aero Vodochody for 15 L-159 fighter jets.

Meanwhile, up to 500 American special forces are on the ground too helping coordinate the fight against IS.

Warfare always brings together strange bedfellows. But can Iraq’s generals and politicians–especially new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi–fight their way to a lasting peace?

Update (9-3-2014): German news magazine Der Spiegel just published a list of German small arms and munitions to be delivered to Kurdish forces within the month.

  • 8,000 7.62mm G3 assault rifles
  • 8,000 5.56mm G36 assault rifles
  • 40 MG3 machine guns
  • 8,000 9mm P1 pistols
  • 30 Milan ATGM launchers + 500 Milan missiles
  • 40 Panzerfaust Type 3 launchers + 200 Panzerfaust Type 3 rockets
  • 10,000 hand grenades
  • 100 signal pistols

Australian aircraft are also delivering unspecified Eastern European weapons to the Kurds via the UAE.