Russia has begun supplying military helicopters and fighters jets to Iraq, a report said Thursday, as Iraq’s defence minister visited Moscow to press for equipment to thwart a jihadist offensive.
“A number of contracts with Iraq have entered into force and are being fulfilled,” the Interfax news agency quoted a source in Russia’s defence export establishment as saying.
Deliveries of Mi-35 helicopter gunships and Su-25 fighters that provide close air support for ground troops have begun, added the source.
Iraq also has contracts for Mi-28 attack helicopters and mobile Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air and anti-aircraft artillery systems.
Russia’s ambassador to Baghdad, Ilya Mogunov, had previously said he believed up to 10 Sukhoi fighter jets would be delivered by the end of the summer.
Russia and Iraq in 2012 signed contracts worth $4.2 billion (3.1 billion euros) to supply 36 of the Mi-28 attack helicopters and 48 of the Pantsir units, according to Russian Technologies (RosTec) which controls their producers.
Later it signed contracts for six Mi-35 helicopters and Su-25 fighters.
Iraq’s Defence Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi was in Moscow on Thursday on a visit officials said was aimed at stepping up military cooperation with Russia.
At a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu, Dulaimi said Iraqi-Russian cooperation had a rich history and “today we need to strengthen and develop it” given Iraq’s struggle against militants, Russian news agencies reported.
Shoigu said the “military-technical cooperation between our countries is developing successfully” and that “we stand by you in the struggle against terrorism.”
The Russian defence industry source told Interfax that given the increased tensions following the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over a rebel-controlled area in Ukraine, Washington may pressure Baghdad to cancel its orders for Russian weaponry.
Despite the billions of dollars spent on training and equipment by the United States during its eight-year occupation, Iraq’s million-strong army completely folded when insurgents attacked last month.
Within days, the Islamic State jihadist group and allied Sunni factions conquered Iraq’s second city of Mosul and large swathes of the north and west.
The front lines have since stabilised and Baghdad has already received intelligence assistance from Washington and Sukhoi warplanes from Russia and Iran.