Suspicions of corruption in Iraq’s $4.2 billion arms deal with Russia have led Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to re-think the one-month-old agreement, although some officials say it is still on track.
Early statements that the deal had been canceled were soon clarified by the Iraqi government, which said that it was merely being reconsidered and claims of corruption investigated. But finger-pointing and contradicting statements by various government officials have led to further confusion.
Sources in the National Alliance suggest that parliament members close to Maliki may be corroborating factors, a point that Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh says, contaminates the reputation of the entire government.
In defense of recent claims that Dabbagh was on a list of recipients of commissions from the arms deal, he claimed no involvement and said his interests lay only in the state’s “sovereignty and dignity.”
“I was the first to warn the prime minister of the possibility of corruption in the deal, even before he went to Russia,” he said, “and I am asking parliament to form a committee to investigate the details of the deal.”
Prime Minister Maliki has denied Dabbagh’s claims.
Parliamentary Integrity Committee member Jawad al-Shahyli says there are five senior Iraqi politicians involved, and that they will be brought to justice and removed from office.
Sources inside the Iraqi government claim that there are also other government parties involved, including a minister who had recently visited Moscow, but also added that the corruption is not only on the Iraqi side.
They also claim that Maliki was unsure of the deal from the beginning, but gave in to Iranian pressure to sign it.
The Iraqiya list, led by Iyad Allawi, Iraq’s former interim prime minister, has demanded a report on the deal, in order to uncover all areas of corruption in it, according to Iraqiya MP Haider Mullah.
Mullah also questioned why it was important to spend so much money to send a delegation to Russia when, he believes, the deal could have been made in much more cost-efficient ways.
Iraq’s acting Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi has declared the deal “safe,” but added that he was subjected to political pressure and blackmail to end the deal.
Al-Dulaimi claimed that the only investigation being made is a committee inspecting the quality of the weapons Russia is offering, and that they are expected to give their opinion within a month.
Habib al-Tarfi, an MP from the National Alliance, insists that Iraq should go ahead with the Russian arms deal, adding that “Iraq needs diversity in its sources for armament.” He said that the country has a new committee working on the arms deal, and that he expects this will eliminate any problems of corruption.
Stanislav Ivanov, a researcher at the Center for International Security of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and an expert on the Middle East, said in remarks published by Russian media, that the arms deal between Iraq and Russia was still ongoing, and noted that Iraq “will need Russia in the field of armament, due to large amounts of weapons imported by the former Soviet Union, and the large number of Iraqi military experts who were trained during the Soviet era.”
Ivanov added that the United States will remain the primary supplier of arms to Iraq, but that Russia’s cooperation will also be increasingly important.
However, Ivanov has also been critical of Russia’s methods of operating in arms deals, saying that they are making the same mistakes they did under Soviet rule, by seeking to sign as many contracts as possible, without a strategy for long-term plans.
“If we are going to sell to Iraq,” he said, “we need to prepare and formulate a program for the next 15-20 years, and not just make the immediate moment our main concern.”
But any deal between the two countries may still hinge on the findings of the details of this one, which seem to still be mired in confusion, threats and blackmail.
The Parliamentary Integrity Committee revealed last week that the committee chairman, Baha al-Araj from the Sadr list, had received serious threats from “a very senior official,” in the wake of possible new accusations.
Moktada al-Sadr earlier described the arms deal with Russia as a sectarian deal and not in the interest of the nation, adding that it was a waste of Iraqi money, and called on parliament to open an investigation of it.
Nizar Latif contributed to this report from Baghdad.
Sarah Price is a freelance journalist, contributing reporter for Time Magazine and a regular contributor with Your Middle East. You can follow her on Twitter @LADreamr.