Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has canceled an arms deal with Russia worth $4.2 billion based on suspicions of corruption, CNN and others reported. Al-Maliki’s advisors say that Baghdad still wants to salvage an agreement.
The contract was for attack helicopters and mobile air-defense systems.
Some media outlets have speculated that Iraq struck the weapons deal in the first place to reduce its dependency on the United States. In October, the Longley Intelligence Group reported that the U.S. remains Iraq’s largest arms supplier with $6 billion in contracts already agreed to and deals worth over $10 billion under discussion.
If – as initially reported – the arms deal was canceled due to corruption, “it is a good sign for Iraq’s fledgling democratic government,” wrote the Longley Group.
But Middle Eastern analysts suspect that Al-Maliki’s corruption “suspicions” are a smokescreen.
“If Washington is playing rough with him and threatening to cut off military aide due to Iraq’s foreign policy in Syria, then flirting with Moscow is his way of getting the U.S. to play ball,” Ramzy Mardini, a fellow at the Beirut-based Iraq institute for Strategic Studies, told CNN.
“Conversely, he could be simply pressuring the Russians to put forth a better deal.” Mardini said.
Though Russian firms are “widely believed” to engage in corrupt practices to win foreign contracts, wrote the Longley Group, al-Maliki’s suspension of the contract appears to be more about political calculation.