Artillery types

Iraq says it spends a lot on artillery and jets. Can he afford them?

Iraqi military vehicles take part in a search operation for suspected jihadists in Iraq’s northern Ninawa province at sunrise on March 29, 2022. (ZAID AL-OBEIDI/AFP via Getty Images)

BEIRUT: As Iraq moves forward with plans to purchase state-of-the-art artillery from the United States and France, while also seeking the purchase of Rafale fighter jets, questions arise about its ability to fund those contracts with an interim government and other pressing priorities.

On May 8, the Iraqi Ministry of Defense revealed that it was signing contracts with the United States and France to import advanced weapons and improve the quality of its artillery.

As is usually the case in Iraq, little information was announced on specific systems, cost or delivery time. Almost all the information about the agreements came from the ministry’s artillery class commander, Major General Abed Al-Ardawi, who told the Iraqi News Agency (INA) that the contracts were concluded “to import advanced weapons, including artillery, which has recently proven its effectiveness in all battles against the Islamic State”.

He added that Iraq continues to import long-range guns to target long-range enemies, saying “the import of new weapons will be part of the agreements with European countries.”

But in the absence of an effective government, experts do not expect these contracts to see the light of day. In October 2021, Iraq held parliamentary elections and no cabinet has been formed since, leaving an interim government to rule the country.

Retired Iraqi military expert and Brigadier Adnan Al Kenany told Breaking Defense that not much is known about these artillery systems that are supposed to be procured, and added that “procurement does not is not part of the duties of the interim government”.

And Iraq has more stressful issues than building up its defense capabilities, Ahmad Al Sherify, an Iraqi strategy and defense expert, told Breaking Defense.

“Infrastructure and the reconstruction of destroyed cities are priorities that can drain the budget. This is why financing defense procurement, including air defense systems, may not be an easy mission,” said Al Sherify.

He added that the budget is a dilemma in Iraq. “We face more pressing needs than increased arms spending, and Iraq could offset its defense needs with the alliances it has. For example, Iraq being an ally of the international coalition, it is possible to borrow certain capabilities to perform certain tasks that require capabilities not available at the national level in order to neutralize threats.

There is, he said, a fine line between sustainable development programs and increased military spending, a line the new government should not cross in order to avoid a political crisis.

Air defense requirements

Besides Al-Ardawi’s claims that the deals cover “artillery”, experts had to guess what might be included in the arms package, should it materialise.

Al Sherify expects Iraq to seek additional C-RAM anti-rocket systems to secure its own airspace. The utility of this capability is easy to spot: in January, US C-RAM anti-rocket systems shot down missiles fired by “terrorists” at the US Embassy in Baghdad.

“It is possible for Iraq in the next government program to procure these air defense systems as they are cost effective for targeting drones. In addition, the country needs to procure long and medium range radars from the France to improve air and radar surveillance, then air defense systems.All these contracts are pending the formation of the next government.

Al Kenany stressed the growing importance of strengthening Iraqi air defense systems. “As for the increasing purchase of air defense systems, it came after Turkish transgressions into Iraqi airspace and repeated violations of Iraqi airspace. Iraqi military forces have the personnel to confront and fight , but lack armament, training and equipment.

For best results, he said, Iraq should seek to deploy detection radars and air defense systems largely on its borders – whether American-made or sourced from Iraq. another source, such as Russia.

Highlighting the need for air defense: On Monday, five missiles hit the Ain al-Asad base housing US troops in the west of the country. Earlier in January this year, two armed drones were shot down as they approached the same military base. In 2021, at least six drone attacks have taken place against US and coalition forces in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Air Force continues to follow a plan to purchase 14 French Rafale fighter jets at a cost of $240 million, which will be paid for in oil rather than cash. In September 2021the chairman of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee, Mohammed Redha al-Haidar, revealed that Baghdad and Paris had signed a contract for the plane.

NATO training

Earlier this month, Iraqi Defense Minister Juma Inad discussed ways to provide training support with NATO Mission Iraq Commander Major General Giovanni Iannucci.

NATO Mission Iraq (NMI) is a non-combat training and capacity building mission designed to help Iraqi forces prevent the return of ISIS and was launched in 2018 after the completion of the NATO training and capacity building mission for Iraq.

Al Sherify said such training is part of US attempts to develop military cooperation between Iraq and others in the region.

Ideally, “it will be something similar to a NATO, and this idea was discussed during the tripartite meeting between Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, to ​​form a regional NATO. It will be an army integrating capabilities between the three countries, and the rest of the countries will join it, with their weapons capabilities, to achieve what is called regional self-protection,” Al Sherify told Breaking Defense.

These training exercises will highlight the interoperability between the participating countries and complement their armament capabilities, in terms of the type and nature of combat missions.

In June 2021, a tripartite summit between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and Iraqi President Barham Saleh was held in Baghdad.

Saleh said the meeting was “an eloquent message amid huge regional challenges”. While Kadhemi’s office then said the summit was discussing topics such as political and economic cooperation, especially boosting investment, and “joint efforts in the fight against terrorism”.

That still leaves a long way to go before some sort of permanent military coalition – let alone the idea of ​​a regional alliance where members pledge to come to each other’s aid in the event of an attack – can be formed. But strengthening those relationships would give Iraq one more way to have others to fill capability gaps, and perhaps relieve some of the fiscal pressure on Baghdad.