Russia, Iraq agree to $4.3-billion military hardware deal

Mi-26 and Mi-28 helicopters in flight. (Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)
Russia and Iraq have signed a set of contracts that will see Russian fighter jets, helicopters and other military hardware exported to the transitioning country as part of a tighter military cooperation plan.

­The contracts are being finalized as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is on a visit to Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev before later discussions with President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier, online Arabic newspaper Elaph quoted al-Maliki as saying his country needs the modern weapons from Russia to combat terrorists in the mountains and desert. Iraq does not need Washington's endorsement of the contracts, he added.

“Our foreign policy is based on our interests. We are prepared to cooperate with all. We are on good terms both with the US and Iran. We do not want to be encircled by constant conflict,” the prime minister said.

Konstantin Makienko, the deputy director of Russia's Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, says a second package of contracts is expected to follow.

He added that the deal shows the Iraqi government’s determination to pursue an independent policy in the face of political pressure from the US.

Makienko also explained that the Iraqi military is more accustomed to Russian equipment than to anything manufactured elsewhere.

Iraq is buying 30 Russian MI-28 attack helicopters, worth $2 billion, along with 42 Pantsir short-to-medium-range surface-to-air missile and anti-aircraft artillery weapon systems, worth $2.3 billion. The country also reportedly intends to purchase Russian MiG fighter jets as well as armored vehicles.

These are the first significant military deals between the two countries since 2008. Between 2008 and 2011, Russian military exports to Iraq amounted to just $246 million.

The number one market for Russian military hardware is traditionally India, followed by Venezuela and Vietnam, according to forecasts for the period ending in 2015.

Russia’s cooperation with Iraq previously included joint development of oil fields, including West Qurna, one of Iraq’s largest, but that contract was broken off on the eve of the NATO invasion of the country in 2003.