BEIRUT — Iraq’s military is seeking several defense systems of different origins, including French Rafale fighter jets, drones and artillery, as well as Russian T-90 tanks, with some ongoing negotiations reaching an advanced stage.
“France has offered to sell 20 drones; currently the Iraqi [Ministry of Defence] is undertaking technical analysis,” Norman Ricklefs, who leads geopolitical consultancy NAMEA Group and was previously an adviser to Iraq’s interior minister and to the secretary general of the MoD, told Defense News.
An Iraqi delegation is scheduled to visit France in the near future to inspect the drones.
Ricklefs, who has recently spoken to Iraqi defense officials about the procurement plans, said there isn’t yet a contract for the drones. At this point, he believes the delegation will “perform a quality check” on the unmanned systems.
The French Armed Forces Ministry did not respond to several requests for comment on the visit, nor on the types or numbers of aircraft that might be offered.
In a January interview by the Iraqi News Agency with the chief of the country’s land forces, he revealed the negotiations to procure French drones. “Iraq is negotiating many contracts including armed drones capable of flying for 30 hours in Iraqi airspace and of addressing targets and continuously monitoring various regions, with proven ability and effectiveness,” Lt. Gen Qasim Al-Muhammadi said.
Ricklefs said Iraq is also in negotiations for Pakistani UAVs. “Pakistan has also offered to sell Iraq 20 drones, but the MoD is still analyzing the offer,” he told Defense News.
Additionally, Al-Muhammadi said in the interview, “there are plans to increase the number of tanks and increase the divisions and brigades in order to increase the capabilities of the Iraqi Army.” The service currently operates American Abrams and Russian T-90 tanks, he added.
Ricklefs noted that the MoD is seeking additional T-90 tanks from Russia, having already ordered 73 2016. The Iraqi MoD announced in June 2018 that, as part the order’s first batch, 39 of those T-90S tanks were delivered to the 9th Division’s 35th Brigade. This brigade was equipped with M1 Abrams tanks, but they were transferred to the 34th Brigade after the T-90 delivery, the ministry has said.
“There are excellent artillery systems with high accuracy that will be imported from France, in addition to weapon systems equipped with night goggles,” Al-Muhammadi said in the interview. “There are many contracts signed by Iraq to procure equipment, some of which have already arrived at the national port, and others are still under production.”
In terms of local production, he described “a serious desire to develop Iraqi weapons, and there are projects that have been launched already to enable us to manufacture systems ourselves.”
“There is competition between the East and the West to prove their systems’ capabilities, and as armed forces, we support armament sources diversification,” he added.
For its part, the Iraqi Air Force is seeking French Rafale fighter jets. In September 2021, the chairman of the Security and Defense Committee of Iraq’s parliament, Mohammed Redha al-Haidar, revealed Iraq and Paris signed a contract for the aircraft.
“The Iraqi Air Force is intending to purchase 14 French Rafale fighter jets at a cost of $240 million, which will be paid in oil rather than cash,” Ricklefs told Defense News about the deal.
He also said the Air Force is nearing the purchase of Super Mushshak fighter/trainer aircraft, but he was unable to provide further details.
Vivienne Machi in Stuttgart, Germany, contributed to this report.
Agnes Helou is a Middle East correspondent for Defense News. Her interests include missile defense, cybersecurity, the interoperability of weapons systems and strategic issues in the Middle East and Gulf region.