- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pentagon officials yesterday hailed an Iraqi request to purchase up to $2.3 billion worth of U.S. weapons as a sign that the fledgling government is taking steps to secure the war-torn nation.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, charged with overseeing foreign military sales, said the move will enable Iraq to rebuild its military infrastructure and thus take charge of missions now conducted by U.S.-led coalition forces.

Pentagon officials announced the proposal to Congress yesterday.

“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country,” the agency said. “This proposed sale directly supports the Iraqi government and serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the U.S. This expansion will enable Iraq to equip new forces to assume the missions currently accomplished by U.S. and coalition forces and to sustain themselves in their efforts to bring stability to the country.”

The Iraqi request for weapons follows Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’ request to Congress for nearly $190 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The proposed sale of weapons to Iraq is expected to include a variety of military vehicles, from motorcycles to ambulances. The request also includes small-arms ammunition and communications equipment, along with upgrades for 32 additional UH-1 helicopters built by Textron Inc. unit Bell Helicopter, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, according to the agency statement.

Some items requested by the Iraqi government are not up to U.S. standards but, instead, Russian equipment that Iraq is accustomed to using in its military.

The sale would “enable the Iraqi army to expand their force structure by 25 battalions and a brigade headquarters,” the statement said.

Congress has 30 days to block the sale if it does not think it is in the United States’ national interest, a Defense Department official said. However, lawmakers have generally not taken such action, the official said.

Defense officials did not disclose which contractors will be involved in the potential sale, saying they are “unknown at this time.”

The agency noted that the sale will not require the assignment of any additional U.S. government and contractor representatives to Iraq.

“There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale,” the statement said.

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