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Iraq’s arms deal with Russia on hold

BAGHDAD – Iraq is reconsidering plans to buy more than $4 billion in arms from Russia, officials said Saturday, throwing the proposed purchase into question just weeks after it was announced.

The turnaround follows the ouster of Russia’s defense minister last week and allegations by Iraqi lawmakers and local media that the pending deal is tainted by graft.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki traveled to Moscow in October and outlined plans to buy the weapons, including helicopter gunships and air defense missiles.

The deal would have strengthened Russia’s ties to oil-rich Iraq at a time when the ruling regime of longtime Mideast ally Syria risks falling in the country’s civil war.

It now appears unlikely the sale will go through as previously planned.

“When the prime minister returned from his trip to Russia, he started reviewing the deal as a whole,” the prime minister’s spokesman, Ali al-Moussawi, said Saturday. “The deal now is under investigation. So far, nothing has been proven. A new committee has been formed to avoid any suspicions.”

The comments came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin reshuffled the nation’s top military brass following the removal of Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov earlier in the week.