Iraq seen as major arms buyer by 2020

Jan. 4, 2013 at 12:13 PM   |   0 comments

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BAGHDAD, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The Iraqi government is spending billions of dollars to restore the country's military power but analysts say arms purchases won't peak until 2020.

And Baghdad, angry about the slow delivery of U.S. weapons systems, may well switch the emphasis of its procurement program to Russia, the Czech Republic and possibly even China, to speed up amassing firepower for its military forces.

Oxford Analytica observed in a new assessment Wednesday that the United States, hitherto post-Saddam Hussein Iraq's main arms supplier, "will face stiffer international competition from Russian, Former Soviet Union, European and Asians arms vendors in coming years."

"Iraq is unlikely to represent a very large opportunity for defense sales until it has met more pressing spending commitments and increased the government's capacity to raise and spend larger investment budgets," Oxford Analytica observed in an assessment published Wednesday.

Oil-rich Iraq "will only become a very lucrative defense market after 2020, when it could be one of the top opportunities in the global defense sector."

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will showcase Iraq's resurgent military during an Army Day parade Sunday as it continues to negotiate a $5.2 billion arms package from Russia and the Czech Republic, unveiled Oct. 9 when Maliki visited Moscow.

This marked a major shift from U.S. weapons systems, which have dominated postwar military procurement since it got under way in 2005.

The United States has either delivered or is evaluating arms sales to Iraq totaling $19 billion. These include 36 Lockheed Martin F-16IQ Block 52 fighter jets, enough for two squadrons.

The F-16s will be new Iraqi air force's first combat aircraft and will be equipped with advanced missile and laser-guided bomb systems. Baghdad's Defense Ministry says it wants 96 of the jets spread over four orders. The first batch is expected to be operational by 2015.

Lockheed Martin delivered the third of six C-130J Super Hercules Transports to Iraq in mid-December. The others are scheduled for delivery this year.

The transports are part of a $10 billion arms signed in August 2008 that also includes 25 Bell attack helicopters armed with Lockheed Martin laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, 140 upgraded Abrams main battle tanks built by General Dynamics Land Systems and 160 Guardian armored security vehicles manufactured by Textron Marine and Land Systems.

The $4.2 billion Russian deal involves an unspecified number of MiG-29M/M2 interceptors, 30 Mil Mi-28N all-weather, anti-armor attack helicopters and 42 Pantsir S-1 air-defense missile systems.

Maliki is also reported to have signed up to buy 28 L-159 Alca advanvec trainer/light attack aircraft built by the Czech Republic's Aero Vodochody when he visited Prague in October.

That deal is worth an estimated $1 billion, although both the Russian and Czech agreements apparently remain unsigned despite October reports they'd been wrapped up.

There has been wide speculation that Maliki is using the threat of major arms deals with Moscow and Prague to prod the Americans to meet his repeated demand to accelerate delivery of the U.S. systems he has ordered.

Under the first F-16 contract in 2009, Washington agreed to deliver the initial batch of 18 jets by March 2011. This was postponed to March 2013.

These complaints, which Arab sources say have become quite strident, are linked to concerns in Baghdad that it may have to engage in combat with independence-minded Kurds in northern Iraq.

That may have been why the Americans delayed the first F-16 delivery, because they don't want to see Iraq, which neighbors Iran and Saudi Arabia, fragment into sectarian fiefdoms.

Deliveries of the Abrams under a $900 million deal are also lagging.

In this regard, the Czech L-159 aircraft would be ideal for counter-insurgency operations against Kurdistan's famed Peshmerga fighters.

Presumably, Baghdad could accelerate its military procurement program if major internal fighting erupts, and analysts suspect it may go for Russian T-90 tanks which Moscow tried to sell Maliki in October.

Oxford Analytica says Maliki is keen to diversify military purchases "away from excessive reliance on the United States."

Iraq "seeks to achieve 'strategic independence' between 2016 and 2020, when it aims to be able to defend its international borders without external support.

"Yet in reality, Iraqi military power will remain anemic compared to its neighbors until at least 2025."

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