$2 Billion In Arms Sales to Iraq: Is It the Right Stuff?

Amid the most deadly month in Iraq in five years, the Pentagon notified Congress last week that it is nearing three deals with the government of Iraq worth nearly $2 billion that would provide military equipment, maintenance, training and general support. 

With a $900 million price tag, the largest of the three Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) requests submitted to Congress would provide a package of 50 Stryker vehicles produced by General Dynamics, as well as additional equipment, parts, training and logistical support to provide the Iraqi Army with “reliable capabilities” for detecting “early warning of contamination by radiological, biological, and chemical material.” 

However, what may seem like timely military support might actually be a mismatch of a remedy that doesn’t address the most immediate problem Iraq faces. 

Providing approximately $1 billion in military equipment and training to address chemical and biological agents when the Iraqi army appears to be overwhelmed by a wave of bombings, IEDs attacks and shootings that have resulted in more than 900 Iraqi deaths raises the question of whether the sale addresses Iraq’s current needs. 

“This proposed sale will contribute to Iraq’s stability and sovereignty by increasing its situational awareness and ability to identify potential Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) agents,” the notice states, adding that the sale “will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner.” 

The Pentagon also requested congressional permission to sell 12 Bell 412EP helicopters and accompanying training and support for $300 million, as well as a $750 million, five year contract that would continue to cover maintenance of several American-made vehicles already in use in Iraq for the last decade. 

However, others think that while the Pentagon is not acting improperly, it should take on a larger debate about military support for Iraq in a similar fashion the country is currently having regarding support for the Egyptian military. 

“I believe our national strategy towards Iraq might soon need to be reassessed,” said Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. “Business as usual with arms sales to a government that is in some ways stoking an internal conflict may need to be rethought.” 

“I’m not sure any arms sales make sense, or at least not any new ones, until we see Maliki stop harassing people like [former Iraqi deputy prime minister Rafi] al-Issawi,” said O’Hanlon. In 2011, as finance minister, al-Issawi warned of the risks of providing arms to a sectarian army. 

“It is very risky to arm a sectarian army,” el-Issawi told the New York Times. “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.” 

“The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” states the DSCA notice. 



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