WASHINGTON – Iraq is becoming one of the largest customers for U.S. arms, as the country turns from Soviet-bloc weapons to pricier but more sophisticated American weapons.
Iraq’s government has committed nearly $3 billion for U.S. weapons and equipment over the past year.
“This is a substantial amount of money that they put on the table,” said Joseph Benkert, deputy assistant secretary of defense for global security affairs. “There is a transition taking place as the Iraqis buy … a greater percentage of American equipment.”
That figure could go even higher. Since Jan. 1, 2007, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the Pentagon branch that coordinates foreign military sales, has notified Congress of potential military sales to Iraq that could reach $6.3 billion.
The increase in Iraqi arms and equipment purchases has helped makers of such U.S. military staples as the Humvee and the M-4 and M-16 rifles, military contract records show. That puts Iraq among the top six current purchasers of U.S. military equipment through the foreign military sales program, records show.
Benkert said the deals are helping to cement the future relationship between Iraq and the U.S.
“It’s a symbol of the fact there is a security cooperation relationship going forward that connects them to the United States through this system,” Benkert said.
Iraqi officers saw the superiority of U.S. equipment in the 1991 Gulf War and during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a military think tank.
Both conflicts pitted Iraq’s Soviet bloc tanks and doctrine against mostly American equipment.
After five years of having its troops fight alongside U.S. forces, Iraq’s army is trading its AK-47 assault rifles for the more accurate U.S. M-16 and M-4 rifles, said Army Col. Gregory Perchatsch, deputy director of the U.S. Security Assistance Office in Iraq. Iraqi soldiers and officers have also been working alongside American troops for the past five years, exposing the Iraqis to U.S. equipment.
U.S. equipment has a reputation of being generally better quality but expensive and sometimes more difficult to operate and maintain.
Iraq’s fledgling air force is buying some light U.S.-built aircraft and upgrades to its American Huey helicopters and has expressed interest in buying additional C-130 cargo aircraft. It is also buying upgrade equipment for American Huey helicopters it has in its force.
Iraq’s army recently bought $100 million worth of Humvees, the vehicle used by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps.