WASHINGTON — Since July 25, the Pentagon has notified Congress of a series of foreign military sales to Iraq worth about $4.3 billion that includes infantry carriers, helicopters and ground-to-air rockets.
These new purchases emphasize that the Iraqi Army, despite having to contend with worsening internal conflicts, has “started transitioning from more of an internal role to more external defense, even if that’s always been a difficult balance for the Iraqis to strike,” said Nora Bensahel, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
The sale of radar and missile systems to Iraq follows a larger trend for US sales in the region, which include a sale to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of a sophisticated Raytheon AN/TPY-2 radar, and deals announced in November 2012 with Qatar and the UAE for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense fire units, launchers and interceptors for $8.4 billion.
Elsewhere in the region, the US has sold Raytheon Patriot missile systems to such partners as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE and Qatar in a series of deals that can be seen as “a response to increasing demand from countries in the region who are looking at the potential of having a nuclear Iran as a neighbor,” Bensahel said.
The recently announced sales to Iraq can be seen as a hedge against the possibility of a nuclear Iran, as well as a way to assist the Iraqis in handling the increasingly bloody sectarian terrorism threat that emanates from within its own borders. Over the past several months, resurgent al-Qaida cells working inside the country have launched a series of gruesome bomb attacks, killing hundreds of Iraqis and throwing the long-term stability of the country into question.
“Iraq is moving back to a primary state of civil war, and its internal focus is coming back to counterinsurgency and counterterrorism,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. While the missile defense systems the US wants to sell Iraq may be useful against a potential outside threat, “the real-world problems in Iraq are very much dominated by internal stability,” he said.
The latest deal, announced Aug. 5, is a $2.4 billion air defense package for 681 Raytheon Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 40 truck-mounted launchers, Sentinel radars and three Hawk anti-aircraft batteries with 216 Hawk missiles.
These systems “will provide Iraq with the ability to contribute to regional air defenses and reduce its vulnerability to air attacks,” the Pentagon wrote in its filing to Congress.
Looking more at internal threats from al-Qaida and the restive Sunni minority that continues to bristle under the Shiite-led government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, the US Defense Department on July 25 sent another letter to Capitol Hill informing them of potential deals with Iraq totaling $1.9 billion.
The deals included 50 Stryker infantry carriers, 12 Bell 412EP helicopters, and maintenance and logistical support for Iraq’s fleet of thousands of US-made military vehicles that have been languishing under the breakdown of the Iraqi logistics system in the wake of the December 2011 American withdrawal.
While the part of the deal that raised the most eyebrows was 50 General Dynamics Land Systems Stryker nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance vehicles worth about $900 million, a source with knowledge of the negotiations between American and Iraqi military officials said the real concern for both parties was the $750 million, five-year logistics contract that would cover the maintenance on thousands of American-made vehicles, including the M88A1 recovery vehicle, M88A2 Hercules, M113 infantry carrier, howitzers and Humvees.
An April report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction included an interview with the then-commander of the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, who reported that when touring the country’s main American-built military supply warehouse this year, he found that spare parts for the country’s ground vehicle fleet had been gathering dust on the shelves because the Iraqis lacked the ability — or the desire — to get the parts to units that may have needed them.
“When we left, it all crumbled, and the institutional base of the Iraqi Security Forces started crumbling, too — because the US forces had been holding it up,” he said. “Iraq didn’t have the resources to sustain what we left.”
The hope is that the deal for maintenance support would begin to fill in some those widening gaps. Since Caslen also reported that “Iraq has a desire to hire somebody to do the maintenance rather than doing unit maintenance themselves,” the breakdown in Iraq’s ability to service its own military fleets could be music to the ears of US defense contractors.