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Iraq government split over canceled $4.2 billion arms deal with Russia

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BAGHDAD — Iraq, in a move that could divide the government, has
canceled a major weapons deal with Russia.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki has canceled a $4.2 billion weapons
contract with Russia amid allegations of bribery. But the Defense Ministry,
which signed the deal, has insisted that the project would continue.

Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun Duleimi speaks to the media during a news conference in Baghdad on Nov. 10. /Reuters

“Our needs for weapons still stands, so we will renegotiate new
contracts,” Al Maliki spokesman Ali Musawi said. “This is a precautionary measure because of suspected corruption.”

Al Musawi said the Russian project was suspended amid an investigation of Iraqi officials accused of receiving bribes. He did not provide details of what was to have been the largest Russian arms export deal since 2006.

“When Al Maliki returned from his trip to Russia, he had some suspicions of corruption, so he decided to review the whole deal,” Musawi said on Nov. 10. “There is an investigation on this.”

The Russian project was meant to have delivered 30 Mi-28 attack
helicopters and 50 Pantsyr-S1 air defense systems to the Iraq Air Force. Officials said Baghdad had also been discussing the procurement of upgraded MiG-29 fighter jets.

Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun Duleimi, who helped negotiate the Russian
deal, has denied any cancellation. Duleimi dismissed allegations of
corruption, saying they stemmed from a delay by the government in submitting
a report on the Russian project to parliament.

“The deal is going ahead,” Duleimi said.

Officials said Iraq has sought Russia as a major military supplier amid
years of delay in combat platforms ordered from the United States. They said
nearly 50 percent of some $15 billion in U.S. projects were hampered by
production or administrative obstacles.

“The American programs were a little slow,” Iraqi Deputy National
Security Adviser Safa Hussein said. “We can’t live with this gap in our
defense capabilities for a long time, and the Americans understand this.”

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