Weekly Iraq Update #41
October 3, 2012-October 11, 2012
Iraq confirms massive arms deal with Russia
During his first visit to Russia in almost four years, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki confirmed on Tuesday a new arms deal with Russia amounting to over $4.2 billion. The deal makes Russia the second largest supplier of weapons to Iraq behind the U.S., which maintains some $12.3 billion in military contracts with Iraq. While the full details of the deal have not been made public, recent negotiations between Baghdad and Moscow reportedly confirmed the purchase by Iraq of 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 mobile surface-to-air missile systems. Furthermore, there has been some discussion over possible contracts to buy Russian MiG-29 fighter jets and various armored vehicles. While sizeable, the arms deal is not unexpected. Iraq’s acting Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi visited Russia on at least three occasions in the past six months in order to sign various weapons contracts. In a speech given during his trip to Moscow, Maliki justified the arms deal stating that he did not want Iraq to be “part of someone else’s monopoly.” He further stated that “we have good relations with the United States and Iran. We do not want to live surrounded by constant conflict. We buy weapons based on the needs that we feel we have.” While this statement demonstrates Maliki’s public diplomatic stance, it is also reasonable to interpret a literal imperative to build up the Iraqi arsenal quickly, as concern over domestic terrorist attacks, spillover from Syria, and the threat of Turkish violations of Iraqi airspace have put increasing pressure on Maliki’s government to more effectively manage internal security.
It is also possible to interpret the deal as an indication of a growing “Iran-Iraq-Syria axis” that is supported by the insertion of Soviet armament into the Iraqi national arsenal. Given that Russia provides arms to Syria, Iraq, and Iran, and given that all four states share a common view on regime change in Syria, the exchange of arms among them warrants further scrutiny. The Iraqi arms deal also represents a financial boon to Russia. Syria has traditionally been the largest importer of Russian arms in the Middle East. As the situation in Syria deteriorates, Russia may be looking to develop a new client state relationship with Iraq to mirror its historic relationship with the Assad regime.
The Russian arms deal likely has other underlying motivations, including the ongoing dispute with the Kurds over the Disputed Territories in northern Iraq. In a sign that Maliki may have sought to leverage the agreement to other ends, the deal was followed by an announcement by Iraqi Oil Minister Abdul Kareem al-Luaibi claiming that Gazprom Neft, the oil component of Russia’s state-run energy company, had halted all oil production deals in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Gazprom has since denied the claim, however.
Bilateral defense talks between Iran and Iraq
On October 3, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmed Wahidi met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad to discuss a bilateral defense agreement between Iraq and Iran. The meeting preceded a planned trip by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and IRGC Naval Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi to Baghdad in the near future. Wahidi’s visit drew heavy criticism from members of the Iraqiyya coalition, who rejected any proposed defense agreement between Iran and Iraq and saw Wahidi’s meetings with Iraqi security officials as a threat to national sovereignty. Iraqiyya leader Ayad Allawi warned against Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs, stating that the “military agreement to be signed by Iraq and Iran means that the [Iraqi] security services will be penetrated by Iran.” As the Syrian crisis worsens by day, Iraq has seen a noticeable increase in Iranian influence. These meetings come a week after Iran warned Iraq against continued inspections of Iranian cargo flights to Syria following an inspection on October 2.
Iraq accused of shipping fuel oil to Syria
In a sign that Iraqi assistance to the Syrian regime has extended beyond previously assumed levels, the Financial Times reported on Monday that Iraq had been shipping fuel oil to Syria, which had been using the oil for power generation. Documents printed on Iraqi oil ministry letterhead were reported to show evidence that in June, Iraq agreed to supply 720,000 tons of fuel oil in monthly shipments. Syria was said to have paid US$14 million in cash for June and July’s shipments through the state-backed Syria Trading Oil Company to the Trade Bank of Iraq, which immediately denied the claim. While such an exchange would not violate U.S. or European Union sanctions, the State Department encouraged Iraq and other countries to be open about any trade agreements they might have with Syria.
Hardline Sadrist elected as de-Ba’athification head
It was announced on Monday that Falah Hassan Shanshal had been elected as the new head of the Accountability and Justice Commission (AJC), the body that oversees de-Ba’athification in Iraq. The AJC was established in 2008 to replace the Supreme National Council for de-Ba’athification created under the Coalition Provisional Authority, and it is mandated to “intellectually, administratively, politically, culturally and economically dismantle the Ba’ath Party system in Iraqi society, state institutions, and civil society institutions.” The process of selecting the commission board was stalled between 2009 and May 2012 as rival blocs competed over the composition of the board. Former commission head Ali al-Lami, who did much to spread sectarian tensions and disrupt the 2010 parliamentary elections by banning more than 500 candidates with alleged Ba’athist links, was assassinated in May 2011. Since then, Human Rights Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani, a Maliki ally, has been in charge of de-Ba’athification on an acting basis.
Shanshal is a leading Sadrist who was imprisoned under Saddam Hussein. He has previously taken a hard line on de-Ba’athification: as the head of the parliamentary committee that reviews the AJC’s activities, he supported Lami, claiming that 511 candidates banned from running in the 2010 elections had links to Saddam’s political or military networks, including current Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq. Shanshal was reported to have received the votes of five of the seven members of the AJC, suggesting that all but the Iraqiyya-linked board members voted for him. Three of the seven members are connected to Shi’ite Islamist parties (two to the Sadrists and one to Maliki’s Da’awa Party), two to the secular-Sunni Iraqiyya list, and two to the Kurdish parties. One of the Kurdish members, Bakhtiar Omar, was chosen as Shanshal’s deputy, further underscoring a likely Shi’ite Islamist-Kurdish alignment on the board. This implies that the Iraqiyya representatives on the board will be marginalized, increasing the risk of the obstruction of Sunni candidates in future elections.