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IQDEX 2017 Is The Biggest Arms Show In Iraq

March 6, 2017
Norinco exhibit at IQDEX. Via Zeina Jawad.

Norinco exhibit at IQDEX. Via Zeina Jawad.

Some of the world’s largest defense contractors are in Baghdad this week for the International Defense Exhibition in Iraq or IQDEX for short. Run by the events organizer United, Iraq’s only recognized arms show trails IDEX in Abu Dhabi and features many of the same participants.

Now in its sixth installment, IQDEX 2017 has 80 companies from East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and North America exhibiting at the Baghdad International Fairground from March 5 until March 8. The participating firms comprise the main suppliers of Iraq’s embattled security forces these last 20 years, including China and the US.

21st Century Asian Arms Race is a media partner for IQDEX 2017.

As Baghdad’s most eager benefactor today, Washington, DC’s role in IQDEX is almost non-existent. Only two American firms are on the show floor–AM General and Caterpillar. The former’s presence is absolutely necessary since Iraq’s army and police, not to mention local militias and the Kurdish Peshmerga, operate the largest fleet of Humvees in the Middle East. With its North American presence fading and lots of competition elsewhere AM General still have a trusted client in this part of the world.

Another staunch US ally, South Korea, is making a splash at IQDEX. No less than the Korea Defense Industry Association or KDIA is orchestrating a serious thrust to capture a slice of the Iraqi market. Baghdad already made token purchases of South Korean arms in previous years so the KDIA is on the ground to green light firms looking for deals. These include Korea Aerospace Industries, Hanwha, and S&T Motiv.

A surprising clash is taking place between China and Japan at IQDEX. Norinco and Poly Technologies Corp. split the equivalent of an entire pavilion between them. Their offerings aren’t unremarkable either. Norinco in particular is offering its VT4 or MBT 3000 third-generation battle tank to the Iraqis and multi-rocket launchers and artillery are on the table too.

But Japanese companies like Nissan and Gamco are well-represented via their local partners. Even if Japanese weapon systems are off limits, dual use vehicles such as Nissan’s light trucks enjoy strong demand from private and institutional clients in Iraq.

The real winner at IQDEX, however, are the homegrown talent. Iraqi companies occupy nearly a third of the available exhibition space and mark a welcome comeback for the local defense sector. Though not as vibrant as 30 years ago, when Iraq was recognized as the world’s largest arms importer, small steps are now being taken to catch up with the region. These firms may have found an unlikely partner in Iran, whose state-owned players were given a whole pavilion right beside the Chinese.

The Iranian Ministry of Defense, the Defense Industries Organization, and a handful of others are openly creating a legitimate channel for future arms sales by participating in IQDEX. It’s a surprising contrast given the often illicit nature of Tehran’s commerce in weapons.

The Russians have no presence in IQDEX this year and in their place are exhibitors form the Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Montenegro, and Slovakia seeking to nab contracts for sustaining the Iraqi armed forces’ Eastern Bloc arsenal. Less visible are the activities of Brazil, Canada, France, Greece, and Ukraine; only one company from each is taking part in IQDEX 2017.

Coverage from the usual gaggle of media partners and specialist magazines is rather scarce. As a result, any major deals coming out of the show haven’t been announced.