Iraq announced on Thursday it has signed $4.2 billion worth arms deals with Russia, during a meeting between Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Moscow.
The deal has given Russia a big boost at a time when the future of its arms sales to Libya and Syria is uncertain. Moscow has become the largest weapons supplier to the Middle East country after the United States.
President Vladimir Putin vocally opposed the US invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Since then, Moscow has struggled to claw back a share of the markets in energy, arms sales and infrastructure projects in Iraq.
“After the fall of Saddam Hussein, it looked like the country was lost forever” Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Russian security and defence think tank CAST, said adding that the news is “absolutely sensational.”
The contracts will help Russia maintain its position as the world’s second-biggest arms seller after the United States, Pukhov said.
Washington said it was not overly concerned by the Russian deal.
“Iraq overall has initiated some 467 foreign military sales cases with the United States. If all of these go forward, it will be worth over $12.3 billion, so obviously our own military support relationship with Iraq is very broad and very deep,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing.
The document, published by Reuters, showed the contracts were signed during visits to Russia by Iraq’s acting defence chief in April, July and August. It gave no further details and the state agency in charge of the weapons trade could not be immediately reached.
According to the Russian newspaper Vedomosti, contracts worth $4.3 billion were being agreed ahead of Maliki’s visit. The report, published late last month, said the agreements included deals for 30 Mi-28NE combat helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 mobile rocket launchers.
A spokesman for Russia’s state-controlled arms exporter, Rosvooruzheniye, declined to comment on the arms deals.
The contracts comprised the third biggest package of deals for Russian arms sales since the 1991 Soviet collapse, after a $7.5 billion agreement with Algeria in 2006 and a $6 billion sale to Venezuela in 2009, CAST said.
Russia delivered about $13.2 billion in weapons last year, said Konstantin Makiyenko, an expert at CAST.
Pukhov said the Iraq deals showed the government there “is ready to pursue an independent foreign and defence policy”, but that the United States could have tacitly supported them to appease Russia, which scrapped a deal to sell air-defence systems to Iran citing UN sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Russian defence officials admit the country lost about $4 billion in arms deals with Libya because of the fall of longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. Moscow is still in a fix about weapons sales to Syria because of the conflict there.