BAGHDAD – Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, according to documents seen by Reuters — a move that will break a U.N. embargo on weapons sales by Tehran.
The agreement was reached at the end of November, the documents showed, just weeks after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki returned from lobbying the Obama administration in Washington for extra weapons to fight al-Qaida-linked militants.
Some in Washington are nervous about providing sensitive U.S. military equipment to a country they worry is becoming too close to Iran. Several Iraqi lawmakers said al-Maliki made the deal because he is fed up with delays in U.S. arms deliveries.
A spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister would not confirm or deny the sale, but said such a deal will be understandable given Iraq’s current security troubles.
“We are launching a war against terrorism and we want to win this war. Nothing prevents us from buying arms and ammunition from any party and it’s only ammunition helping us to fight terrorists,” said the spokesman, Ali Mussawi.
The Iranian government denied any knowledge of a deal to sell arms to Iraq. It would be the first official arms deal between Shiite Iran and Iraq’s Shiite-led government and would highlight the growing bond between them in the two years since the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq.
The U.S. State Department said it is looking into the reports.
“If true, this would raise serious concerns,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a news briefing.
“Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of UNSCR 1747. We are seeking clarification on the matter from the government of Iraq and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran,” Psaki said, referring to the U.N. resolution that imposed an arms embargo on Iran.
A U.S. official said such a deal could further complicate Washington’s approach to negotiating with Iran on easing international sanctions over its nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at producing bombs. Iran says its aims are purely peaceful.
Asked at the Washington briefing if the deal could have come about due to Iraqi frustration at the slowness of U.S. deliveries, Psaki said the United States is committed to supporting Iraq and has provided it with more than $15 billion worth of military and security equipment, services, and training.
“We’re working to accelerate our . . . deliveries of critical CT (counterterrorism) equipment,” she said.
Psaki said recent U.S. shipments included Hellfire missiles, hundreds of small arms and large quantities of small arms and tank ammunition. She said the U.S. government has also notified Congress of plans to supply Iraq with Apache helicopters.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated support for Iraq’s fight against militants and discussed the security situation in the Iraqi province of Anbar in a call with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari on Saturday, Psaki said.
A U.N. diplomatic source close to the U.N. Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee was aware of the Iran-Iraq arms deal and voiced concern about it, while declining to disclose details about those concerns.
The official documents seen showed that six of eight contracts were signed with Iran’s Defense Industries Organization to supply Iraq with light and medium arms, mortar launchers, ammunition for tanks as well as artillery and mortars.
A final two contracts were agreed to with the state-owned Iran Electronic Industries for night vision goggles, communications equipment and mortar-guiding devices.
One of the contracts includes equipment to protect against chemical agents. An Iraqi Army major with knowledge of procurement issues said that will include items such as gas masks and gloves, as well as injections. Baghdad has expressed fear the militants will use such agents against its forces.
Officials from the Iraqi and Iranian Defense ministries signed the agreements, according to the documents. They did not list a timetable for deliveries and it was not possible to confirm whether they had taken place.
Al-Maliki has been engaged in a nearly 2-month-old battle in western Iraq against Sunni al-Qaida-inspired militants and rebellious tribesmen. The prime minister has blamed the unrest in Anbar on the conflict spilling over from neighboring Syria.
One Western security official said U.S. government experts believe an Iranian-Iraqi arms deal had been in the works for some time. The growing friendship between the two countries is discomfiting for the United States, which has accused Iran of having shipped arms to the Syrian government through Iraq.