An informed source from within the Iraqi government told Niqash, on condition of anonymity, that during Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s trip to Washington D.C. this week, he held “discussions with U.S leaders on the issue of providing Iraq with heavy equipment and weapons.”
The source confirmed that the discussions with the Americans included “transactions to buy Russian armoured personnel carriers and tanks, French and Russian vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, and Italian war service boats, in addition to two F16 squadrons and one F18 squadron.” All these contracts will be channelled through the American government said the source.
According to Abbas al-Bayyati, an MP and prominent member of al-Maliki's State of Law coalition, "Iraq will complete equipping its forces by mid 2010" before the withdrawal of the American forces.
Al-Bayyati, who is a member of the Parliamentary Defence and Security Committee, said that "Iraq will complete its imports of arms from different military sources including the U.S, Russia, France and Serbia, by mid-2010, and that Iraqi forces will be ready to defend the country's borders and control the internal situation against any kind of armed operations."
The last list of procurements submitted by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence shows that the Iraqi Army is also trying to get 440 American armoured personnel carriers, 360 Russian armoured personnel carriers, 60 Polish armoured personnel carriers, and 35 Brazilian Cascavel armoured personnel carriers.
This information means that the Iraqi army, which before the U.S invasion in 2003 possessed 3,300 armoured personnel carriers, will have less than 1,955 armoured personnel carriers in total upon the complete American withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2010.
However, Iraqi military experts say the weapons supply is still far too small for the country’s 300,000 soldiers. According to retired General Latif Muhammad Al-Ani the army is too reliant on light arms and needs to equip itself with more heavy equipment. Al-Ani says that heavy artillery from the Saddam era has all been destroyed or dismantled by U.S forces.
According to military analysts, it is noticeable that the rearmament plans include no artillery or missiles. The list of procurements does not show any intention to get air defence systems such as antiaircraft missiles. Additionally, while the Iraqi army used to possess 1,500 heavy field artillery batteries of all sizes, in addition to 250 rocket launchers and thousands of anti-tank and anti-ship rockets, it now only has 1,133 mortars.
Meanwhile, building an effective air force "will take years" says Robert Allardice, commander of the multi-national air force in Iraq. The current Iraqi air force contains around 1,200 men and around 50 aircrafts specified for non-armed transport and exploration. In the 1980s Iraq had the sixth biggest air force in the world, possessing more than 1,000 aircraft.
Today the air force has 11 C-130A Hercules aircrafts, eight of which are used for training, three Cessna aircrafts equipped with night monitoring technology, and 16 Hiwi aircraft and helicopters received from the U.S. Baghdad is expected to receive 20 Russian aircraft and helicopters soon.
Part of the reason that the Iraqi army still possesses no heavy arms, as well as an effective air force, has been regional and Kurdish opposition to any such plans.
The Kurdistan Government has long demanded "control" over arms procurements fearing that Baghdad could turn them on the northern region as Saddam often did.
However, Jabbar Elyawer, deputy-minister for Peshmerga affairs in the Kurdistan Region, recently declared that the Kurdish government "has not requested any guarantees or controls over the procurements of heavy arms," reflecting, say observers, increased confidence with their position in government.
Similarly, based on past experiences, Kuwait has also expressed opposition to a strengthening of the new Iraqi army. Last September the Kuwaiti Prime Minister told the U.S government that his country fears new arms transactions with Iraq could disrupt the fragile power balance in the region.
Nonetheless, al-Bayyati, from Parliament’s Defence and Security Committee, told Niqash that "there are no objections so far, whether internal or external, to the plan of rearming the new Iraqi army, because it is concerned with defending it borders and nothing more." He indicated that the Iraqi forces will be well prepared for the complete American withdrawal by the end of next year.