Zebari believes that “in principle, both parties are determined to implement the contract.”
Russia was considered to be one of Iraq’s major suppliers of arms and equipment during the rule of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Moscow, however, took a step back after American troops entered the country in 2003.
Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport announced in Feb. 2013 that the arms deal had not been cancelled, but had yet to enter into force and still needed to pass through a series of legislative formalities.
On Jan. 11, 2013, Maliki sent a delegation of army officers and weapons experts — headed by Iraqi Deputy Chief of Staff of Operations for the Iraqi Joint Forces Headquarters Gen. Aboud Kanbar — to Moscow to renegotiate the arms deal.
Iraq is seeking to re-equip its army to face armed groups. According to some officials, the country lacks defense capabilities to protect its border, airspace and maritime territory.
Iraqi military sources reported that the deal involves 30 Mi-27 helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missiles.
Russian and Iraqi media had stated that this would be the biggest deal signed by Russia since 2006. It would constitute Moscow’s return to the arms market in the Middle East, after years of decline due to the American presence.
Diplomats in Baghdad consider the deal with Russia a way for Iraq to circumvent its strong reliance on American military equipment. This would give the country more power in arms negotiations with Washington, which is still the largest weapon supplier for Baghdad.
On the other hand, Maliki’s deal with Moscow is seen as a short-term measure to enhance Iraq’s air defense capabilities before the country has to return its F-16 fighter jets to the United States.
Ali Abel Sadah is a writer and journalist from Baghdad working in both Iraqi and Arab media. He was the editorial manager of a number of local newspapers, and was a political and cultural reporter for over 10 years. He has published in various newspapers and magazines covering Iraqi political affairs, human rights and civil society.