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Iraq signs $2.4B arms deal with Ukraine

  |   Dec. 11, 2009 at 11:50 AM
BAGHDAD, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Ukraine is to supply Iraq with arms and military equipment worth $2.4 billion and the United States will provide a $49 million border security surveillance system as Baghdad scrambles to build up its security forces amid worsening violence as U.S. troops depart.

Meantime, VSD LLC, a subsidiary of Q.E.D. Systems Inc. of Virginia Beach, has been awarded a $23 million contract from the Naval Air Warfare center of Orlando, Fla., to provide training and training systems to the Iraqi navy.

The Ukraine contract, according to Anatoly Grytsenko, chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament's security and defense committee, is the largest in the former Soviet republic's history.

The deal between Iraq's Defense Ministry and Ukraine's state-owned arms exporter, UkrSpetsExport, involved 420 BTR-4 armored personnel carriers, six Antonov AN-32B transport aircraft and other equipment.

Other Ukrainian sources said the contract also includes "high-precision weaponry" but gave no details.

"The deals have been concluded," Grytsenko, a former defense minister, was quoted as saying by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper. "They are now formalizing the contracts.

"The contract will be carried out in stages and, from what I was told, just the first stage is worth $400 million."

The contract is the largest arms deal concluded by Ukraine and will likely boost its ranking for arms sales this year from 14th to 4th or 5th.

It could cause problems with Russia, which has been driving to boost its arms sales to revitalize its flagging defense industry.

During Saddam Hussein's rule, Moscow was Iraq's top arms supplier, and it has been seeking major arms contracts there since his ouster in the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.

"This deal with certainly cause concern in Russia as Ukraine, which has always been one of Russia's main competitors in global arms markets, is now re-establishing its position in the sphere," Nezavisimaya Gazeta commented.

The United States has reportedly allocated $3 billion in military aid to prepare Iraq's armed forces and police force to take over security once the U.S. withdrawal that began in June is completed. That is scheduled for late 2011.

The country has been swept by an upsurge of violence as the Americans pull out, and there has been growing criticism of the capabilities -- and even the loyalties -- of the U.S.-trained Iraqi forces.

The border surveillance system is intended to thwart infiltration from Syria, which Baghdad claims shelters al-Qaida and other Sunni insurgents, and from Iran, which U.S. commanders claim arms, funds and trains Iraqi Shiite militants.

According to the Multi-National Security Transition Command, the U.S. mission that has charge of training Iraq's security forces, the system will initially cover 175 miles of the Syrian frontier and 250 miles of the Iranian border. But how effective it will be remains to be seen.

The system, incorporating camera-equipped watchtowers, infrared and heat sensors, is scheduled to become operational by June.

The U.S. mission said it had worked with Iraq's Interior Ministry to "facilitate" the purchase of the system but declined to give any other details.

The United States has agreed to provide the Iraqi military with armor and heavy weapons but has so far not agreed to Baghdad's request for F-16 strike aircraft, presumably to mollify Iraq's neighbors who do not want to see its military might under Saddam restored.

But it is providing a wealth of other equipment and a vast network of bases.

On Dec. 7 The Washington Post reported that despite the need for military equipment for the U.S. buildup in Afghanistan, the Americans were giving vehicles, generators and other equipment to the Iraqis as U.S. bases were shut down in the phased withdrawal.

The Pentagon has authorized U.S. commanders to donate equipment worth up to $30 million from each facility they abandon, a major increase over the original limit of $2 million set in 2005.

The Americans are scaling back their presence in some 280 bases, ranging from sprawling air bases to small combat posts.

U.S. officials cited the cost and challenges of transporting the equipment to Afghanistan. "In many cases, we'll spend more between labor and transportation than the equipment is worth," said Brig, Gen Peter Bayer Jr., chief of staff with the Ground Forces Command in Iraq.

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