Thursday, May 22, 2008

Making our cronies support our weapons industry

Iraqi forces load up on U.S. arms

These Iraqi soldiers received new rifles from U.S. forces earlier this month, in Taji U.S. military camp near Baghdad. These Iraqi soldiers received new rifles from U.S. forces earlier this month, in Taji U.S. military camp near Baghdad.

By Ceerwan Aziz, pool via AP
Other major purchasers of U.S. military equipment since Jan. 1, 2007:

In billions*
United Arab Emirates $10.4
Romania $4.5
Australia $4.3
Taiwan $3.7
Morocco $3.1
*-Value if all proposed purchases are completed.
Source:Defense Security Cooperation Agency

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.

The increase in Iraqi arms and equipment purchases has helped makers of such U.S. military staples as the Humvee, the Pentagon's workhorse vehicle, and the M-4 and M-16 rifles, military contract records show.

That puts Iraq among the top 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 of Iraq to the United States.

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, a military think tank. "We took on the Iraq army twice and we made short work of them both times," he said.

Even accounting for better trained and disciplined coalition forces, the conflicts still highlighted differences in equipment.

After five years of having their troops work 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, says Army Col. Gregory Perchatsch, deputy director of the U.S. Security Assistance Office in Iraq.

Iraq's Defense Ministry has purchased more than 40,000 M-16s and a request for 20,000 more is under review, he said.

U.S. equipment has a reputation of being generally better quality, but pricey and sometimes more difficult to operate and maintain. AK-47s are generally suited for less developed militaries.

Iraq's fledgling air force is buying some light U.S.-built aircraft and upgrades to its helicopters.

Iraq began committing money to U.S. foreign military sales in December 2006 and by last May had $3 billion in an account dedicated to the program.

About $1.6 billion worth of contracts have already been delivered and another $1 billion is under contract, Benkert said. The remaining money hasn't been spent yet.

The United States also continues to support Iraq's security forces with U.S. tax dollars. The Pentagon budgeted $3 billion this fiscal year to equip and train Iraq's security forces.

"Give it another five, six or eight years and you could be talking about deals that put the Saudis to shame," Pike said. The oil-rich Saudis have bought American fighters and armored vehicles worth billions of dollars.

In January, Iraqi oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said the country exported 1.9 million barrels of oil a day and would produce more by the end of 2008. Oil hit a record price of $134 a barrel Wednesday.

The foreign military sales program is a program that contracts between U.S. and foreign governments. American allies can also apply for licenses that allow them to purchase directly from American contractors.

Despite the increase in buying U.S. materials, about 15% of Iraq's purchases under the foreign military sales program will be of foreign arms, Benkert said. That includes Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters; Iraq plans to buy about 14 Mi-17s, according to the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq.

Original article posted here.

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