Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are included in a $2.4 billion air defense package between the US and Iraq. (Lance Cpl. James B.M. Drake/US Marine Corps)
WASHINGTON — Since July 25, the Pentagon has notified Congress of a series of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to Iraq worth about $4.3 billion that includes everything from infantry carriers to ground-to-air rockets.
When taken as a whole, the sales can be seen as a hedge against the possibility of a nuclear Iran next door 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 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.
These new purchases point to the fact 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 the radar and missile systems to Iraq follows a larger trend for US sales in the region, which include a sale to the UAE of a sophisticated AN/TPY-2 radar, and deals announced in November 2012 with Qatar and the UAE for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) fire units, launchers and interceptors for $8.4 billion.
Elsewhere in the region, the US has also sold Patriot missile systems to partners like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, 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.
Looking more at internal threats from al Qaeda and the restive Sunni minority who continue to bristle under the Shia-led government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, the DoD on July 25 sent another letter to Capitol Hill informing them of potential deals with the Iraq totaling $1.9 billion.
The deals included Stryker infantry carriers, helicopters, and maintenance and logistical support for Iraq’s fleet of thousands of American-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 inclusion of 50 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 that 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 2013 report from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction included an interview with the 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 earlier this year, he found that spare parts for the country’s ground vehicle fleet had been literally 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 U.S. 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 of those widening gaps. But 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, however.