Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Iraq To Spend $13B On U.S. Arms, Equipment
Iraq is preparing to buy as much as $13 billion in American arms and military equipment, a huge order of tanks, ships and hardware that U.S. officials say shows Iraqi-U.S. military ties will be tight for years to come.
"It helps to build their capabilities, first and foremost; and second, it builds our strategic relationship for the future," said Army Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, the ranking U.S. officer responsible for training and advising Iraq forces.
With combat operations officially ended, Vice President Biden and Iraqi officials will gather today at a ceremony at the main U.S. base near Baghdad Airport to mark U.S. troops' transition to an advisory role that focuses on assisting Iraqi security forces. The number of U.S. service members has dropped below 50,000. All U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of next year.
Military sales, which often include lengthy maintenance and training contracts, are part of U.S. efforts to maintain a relationship with Iraq. About half the $13 billion in sales are finalized contracts, and the rest are still in negotiations.
The sales will make Iraq among the world's biggest customers for American military arms and equipment. The Iraq Defense Ministry intends to transform the country's degraded conventional forces into a state-of-the-art military.
"It's going to be a modern and fairly sophisticated military," Barbero said.
Part of the planned purchase includes M-1 tanks, the main battle tank for the U.S. military. Iraq wants to buy 140 of the tanks, and Iraqi crews have already started training on them.
Iraqi forces saw firsthand the effectiveness of America's M-1 tank during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, when the U.S. Army obliterated the slower and less sophisticated Iraqi tanks.
Iraq's conventional weaponry came largely from the Soviet Union and was ravaged by Saddam Hussein's war with Iran in the 1980s and the Gulf War led by the United States. The Iraqi air force was practically wiped out in the wars. Later, United Nations sanctions after the Gulf War prevented Saddam from maintaining his military.
In addition to the $13 billion purchase, the Iraqis have requested 18 F-16 Falcon fighter jets as part of a $3 billion program that also includes aircraft training and maintenance. If approved by Congress, the first aircraft could arrive in spring 2013. Under the plan, the first 10 pilots would be trained in the U.S.
Recent success in battling the Islamist insurgency has allowed Iraq to shift from a lightly equipped counterinsurgency force to a conventional force capable of securing its borders and repelling threats, Barbero said.
"They're at a point now where they're starting to make changes to focus on these conventional capabilities that they need," he said.