18 October 2012

U.S. and Russia vie for Iraq arms business

Much has changed in Iraq since the Americans invaded in 2003. Saddam Hussein is gone, replaced by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki who appears to want to replace Saddam's one-party Sunni-dominated state with a one-party Shia-dominated state.

And Russia has been replaced by the United States as the chief arms supplier to Iraq. Not that Russia is out of the picture—it is Iraq's second largest arms supplier.

Despite concerns that al-Maliki is increasingly consolidating Shia power at the expense of the Sunnis, with the risk of civil war, the Americans proceeded late last year with a $11-billion sale of arms and training for the Iraqi military. As national security issues expert Kenneth M. Pollack observed, if the United States won't deal, Mr. Maliki “would simply get his weapons elsewhere.”

That he is doing anyway. This week, Iraq announced it has concluded a $4.2-billion arms deal with Russia, making it Russia's biggest customer after India. Russia is already doing well in the Middle East—it is the largest supplier of arms to both Syria and Iran. After the U.S., it is the world's largest arms exporter.

With its complexity of hostile relations between well-armed groups, the Middle East is the world's most dangerous region. The U.S. and Russia seem to be doing their best to keep it that way.

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