Iraq hosts arms exhibition as it battles militants

The exhibition showed for its third year as Iraq seeks to obtain weapons to bolster its forces

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Iraq on Saturday hosted an international arms exhibition for the third year in a row, as it seeks to obtain weapons to bolster its forces in their battle against militants.

The government is struggling to contain a year-long surge in violence that has reached levels not seen since 2008, when the country was just emerging from a brutal period of sectarian killings in which tens of thousands of people died.

"The companies that contributed today in the exhibition will have priority in contracting over other companies in filling the needs of the armed forces," acting Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi said.

More than 50 companies from nine countries, including the United States, Britain, France, China and South Korea, are taking part in the exhibition.

Military gear ranging from aircraft and missiles to communications equipment was on display.

Iraq's armed forces -- plagued by shortcomings ranging from insufficient training to problems with logistics and maintenance -- have so far failed to check rising violence in the country.

All of one city just a short drive from Baghdad and shifting parts of a second farther west have been in the hands of anti-government fighters for more than seven weeks.

Iraq has turned to a variety of countries -- first and foremost the United States and Russia -- to supply arms to build its forces' capabilities.

Controversially, it reportedly turned to Iran seeking arms and ammunitions, in deals that would violate international sanctions on Tehran.

Washington has pressured Iraq over the reported agreements, and Baghdad ultimately denied their existence.

Violence in Iraq killed at least 744 people in February, and more than 1,700 since Jan. 1, according to AFP figures based on security and medical sources.

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