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What Happened During IQDEX 2019?

March 16, 2019

Photo from IQDEX 2017. Via event organizer.

The only notable arms show in Iraq had its eighth installment this week. IQDEX 2019 took place at the Baghdad International Exhibition from March 9 to 12. The yearly event is organized by a private company that launched it in the beginning of this decade. The IQDEX series has grown little over the years and is overshadowed by the region’s ritzier arms industry gatherings such as IDEX (UAE) or SOFEX (Jordan). But IQDEX 2019 did have its share of big name exhibitors with China’s two main military-industrial firms–Norinco and Poly Technologies–commanding so much floor space. The other highlight was the participation of Iraq’s own state-owned military-industrial sector, a sure sign it aspires to become self-sufficient in its war material.

This eighth IQDEX had less than 50 exhibitors crowding a single indoor venue and the absence of top US defense contractors was very conspicuous. The Iraqi military still relies on a lot of American equipment, be it the army’s M1A1 Abrams tanks (now redundant for lack of spares) manufactured by General Dynamics to the air force’s prized F-16V’s made by Lockheed Martin. Neither Colt, whose M16 is the standard assault rifle for Iraqi soldiers, nor Textron, whose APCs are a fixture with the security forces, were present too. When it came to strength of numbers, seven Chinese companies were exhibiting at IQDEX 2019 compared to six from the US based on the organizer’s official listing.

But a downloadable floor plan in the IQDEX 2019 website indicated booths for the Ford Motor Company, a Chevrolet dealership, and a separate US-Indian joint venture called Zen Technologies. (They provide training simulators.) So perhaps the US, rather than Chinese, footprint did remain dominant. Russia’s well-known players, from Rosoboronexport to Uralvagonzavod, were nowhere to be seen, however, which is strange since Baghdad and Moscow have so many arms deals at the moment. Supplanting any trace of a Russian presence were exhibitors from Bulgaria whose numbers tied with exhibitors from South Korea clustered in their own pavilion. Iraqi government agencies and enterprises almost outnumbered foreign participants and a genuine highlight was the State Company for Military Industries.

A welcome surprise at IQDEX 2019 was the participation of Egypt’s military-industrial sector. Although no joint ventures were announced, Iraq and Egypt have much to gain from any planned collaborations. There are striking parallels in the domestic security environments of both states and this could help revive their arms industries when it comes to ammunition, aerospace, communications, ordnance, and protected vehicles. But a genuine mystery at IQDEX 2019 was the scale of Iran’s participation. Photos that have appeared in social media suggest a whole range of weapons of equipment were displayed at the show. But the same floor plan released by the organizer indicates a single Iranian entity, the Aviation Industries Organization, was in the venue.

By comparison, Pakistan’s state-owned arms dealer the Defense Exports Promotions Organization (DEPO) brought over a bunch of exhibitors to find business. Iraq has purchased small quantities of Pakistani-made equipment before and it isn’t hard imagining Al Khalid tanks and combat drones competing for defense ministry tenders in the near future. Owing to scant media coverage and limited promotion, the outcome of IQDEX 2019 remains ambiguous and whatever agreements were struck at the show went unheralded. Of course, there will be another one next year.

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