Iraq is mulling whether to buy Russia’s S-300 missile defense system, according to the head of the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi parliament Muhammad Rida al-Haider.
The deal is however “on hold” for the time being, he said, without elaboration.
The lawmaker said Baghdad has already concluded several contracts with Moscow on the modernization of an armored brigade.
Iraqi servicemen, Haider said, have “extensive experience using Russian military hardware, especially battle tanks and armored vehicles.”
Last November, an Iraqi parliamentarian said the United States was fiercely opposed to Iraq’s procurement of Russian-made S-400 air defense systems for fear of losing the aerial hegemony it enjoys in the region, as well as lucrative arms deals.
“The main reason is to prevent the Russian side from marketing its air defense systems in the region, whether it is Iraq, the Persian Gulf region, Iran or any other country in the Middle East, because the US, along with Israel, will lose its hegemony over the regional countries’ airspace, and its freedom of movement to target anti-Israel sites would be constrained,” Mohammed al-Baldawi, a member of the Security and Defense Committee in the Iraqi parliament said.
“Another reason is the financial concerns, because the United States depends heavily on revenues from its arms sales, therefore, any attempt by Iraq or any other state to purchase Russian-built air defense systems will trigger US economic sanctions.”
In the aftermath of the US assassination of top Iranian and Iraqi anti-war commanders in Baghdad in January 2020, the Kremlin offered S-400s to Iraq to “ensure the country’s sovereignty and reliable protection of airspace,” according to Russia’s state outlet RIA.
The United States has already warned Iraq, among a number of other countries, of the consequences of extending military cooperation with Russia, and striking deals to purchase advanced weaponry, particularly S-400 missile systems.
There have been reports that Russia has been eyeing to increase arms sales to Iraq, but there’s apparently competition in the face of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
“While there was some discussion in [Iraq’s] parliament a year ago, I am not aware of any genuine interest in these systems then or currently in the [Ministry of Defence]. There’s also been no recent discussion of purchasing such items in parliament since early last year,” said Norman Ricklefs, head of the geopolitical consultancy NAMEA Group as well as a former adviser to Iraq’s interior minister and to the secretary general of the MoD.
“Clearly the S-400 is a red line for the U.S.,” he said, referring to America sanctioning fellow NATO ally Turkey for purchasing the system. “But any other Russian weapons system purchases will probably be examined on a case-by-case basis, noting that the main U.S. intent is for Iraq to build the capacity to defend itself.”
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, said that as the U.S. reduces its military footprint in the Middle East, competing world powers Russia and China will seek to expand their regional influence.
“The Middle East writ broadly is an area of intense competition between the great powers. And I think that as we adjust our posture in the region, Russia and China will be looking very closely to see if a vacuum opens that they can exploit,” McKenzie said.
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