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Iraq’s Russian tilt

Filed on October 16, 2012

BAGHDAD SEEMS to be on an arms-buying spree. Hardly able to cope with the security conundrum at home, Iraq has taken out time to diversify its weapons procurement agenda and knocked on the doors of Russia.

This is surprising and points to the realpolitik at work. Irrespective of the fact that Baghdad was traditionally close to Moscow, and even exhibited a socialist tilt in the heydays of the Cold War, this new realignment with Russia has raised many eyebrows. The reason: for more than a decade the war-weary country has been literally under United States tutelage and is still home to American influence.

The $4.2 billion deal, as reported by the Russian state-run RIA Novosti news agency, to buy helicopters and mobile air defence systems is worth pondering. Washington, reacting to the deal, was quick to clarify that it also has entered into contracts worth billion of dollars to equip Iraq with modern armoury. A spokesperson for the US embassy in Baghdad unduly commented that the government of Iraq has ‘consistently indicated a strong preference as a US partner of choice for arms purposes’. It wasn’t warranted in so many words. The point is what made Iraq at this point of time to enter into such high profile defence arrangements with Russia, and especially when Pentagon has pledged to rebuild its air and ground forces destroyed in the war with the Saddam regime.

Political pundits either see this move as flexing of muscles or a cautiously calculated move by Baghdad to realign itself with Moscow as the war hysteria looms large over Syria. However, the deal indeed is a clear sign that Iraq is prepared to look beyond Washington for weapons. Given to understand that the political intelligentsia of Iraq is vehemently against having a pro-US foreign policy, or even a symbolic presence of the superpower’s armed forces on its soil, this change of heart could be meaningful in the long run. It is no secret that Iraq had upheld its neutrality as well as the cordiality it had with Iran and its Arab neighbours, and this balancing act with Russia and the US is farsightedness. Nonetheless, what Iraq needs at this moment is not arms but rebuilding of institutions and investing in human resource to further peace and prosperity.





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