Last updated: 9 October, 2012

Iraqi Prime Minister’s Prague visit likely to focus on fighter deal

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki will head a government delegation to the Czech Republic on Thursday, with a potential arms deal involving several dozen Czech-made subsonic jet fighters likely to figure on the agenda.

During a visit to Prague in January, Iraq’s acting Defence Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi said his country was “really very interested in the planes”, namely L-159 subsonic jet fighters made by Czech aircraft firm Aero Vodochody. Baghdad had said it wanted them as soon as possible.

The Czech government website said Tuesday talks during the Thursday visit were to centre on “economic and cultural ties… boosting cooperation in defence and security, and the situation in the region (Middle East).”

Maliki is to meet Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas, while Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari will hold talks with Czech counterpart Karel Schwarzenberg.

Thursday’s visit comes on the heels of Maliki’s three-day visit to Moscow.

Russia on Tuesday announced signing more than $4.2 billion in arms deals with Iraq, making it the violence-torn Middle East nation’s largest weapons supplier after the United States.

Russia is seeking to boost its ties with Iraq and win support for its controversial position on Syria during the powerful Shiite prime minister’s first visit to Moscow in nearly four years.

The conflict in Syria threatens to unseat Moscow’s sole unwavering Arab ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, making it all the more crucial for Russia to forge regional alliances elsewhere.

Iraq has been scrambling for means to protect its borders ever since US troops withdrew from the country after nine years in December 2011.