Last Updated: Thu Dec 29, 2011 16:58 pm (KSA) 13:58 pm (GMT)

U.S. to move ahead with arms deal with Baghdad, despite concerns about Maliki

F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, cannons and armored personnel carriers are among the items that will be received by the Iraqis. (Reuters)
F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, cannons and armored personnel carriers are among the items that will be received by the Iraqis. (Reuters)

The arms deal between Iraq and the United States will go through despite concerns that the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is attempting to further consolidate his power and abandon the American-backed power-sharing government, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The deal – nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military, according to The New York Times – includes advanced fighter jets and tanks, some of which have already been delivered, and is on despite al-Maliki’s failure to continue with an agreement that would have limited his ability to marginalize the Sunnis and change the military force into a more of a sectarian force.

In 2010, the U.S. and Iraq signed an agreement that required the Sunni bloc in parliament to have a say in who runs the defense and interior ministries. But despite Maliki’s pledge, the ministries remain under his control.

“It is very risky to arm a sectarian army,” Rafe al-Essawi, the country’s finance minister and a leading Sunni politician, told the newspaper. “It is very risky with all the sacrifices we’ve made, with all the budget to be spent, with all the support of America — at the end of the day, the result will be a formal militia army,” al-Essawi added.

Like any other U.S. arms deals in the Middle East, the Iraqi-U.S. deal is to counter the Iranian threat, but according to the newspaper, “there are also fears that the move could backfire if the Baghdad government ultimately aligns more closely with the Shiite theocracy in Tehran than with Washington.”

Joost Hiltermann, the International Crisis Group’s deputy program director for the Middle East, told the newspaper that “Washington took the decision to build up Iraq as a counterweight to Iran through close military cooperation and the sale of major weapon systems.”

But Hiltermann added that “Maliki has shown a troubling inclination toward enhancing his control over the country’s institutions without accepting any significant checks and balances.”

F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, cannons and armored personnel carriers are among the items that will be received by the Iraqis.

The newspaper said that the Iraqis have also received body armor, helmets, ammunition trailers and sport utility vehicles, which critics say can be used by domestic security services to help Maliki consolidate power.

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