Iraq’s ambassador to Washington on Tuesday sharply denied reports his government had inked a deal with Iran to buy weapons, ammunition or other military equipment.
The denial, made in an email to The Washington Times, followed a report by Reuters news agency on Monday that said such a deal worth nearly $200 million was underway.
Iraqi Ambassador Lukman Faily said that, in fact, “numerous international firms, including Iran’s Defense Industries Organization, recently submitted offers to provide Iraq with military hardware, but the proposal from Iran was rejected.”
Mr. Faily pointed to an official statement issued Tuesday by the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, which said that “no contract was signed” with the Iranian-government weapons dealer.
“Some media outlets have alleged the signing of arms and military equipment deals between Iraq and Iran, and there are those who have taken advantage of this politically and in the media,” the statement said.
The Reuters report had triggered widespread concern in Washington, where experts said such a deal would have violated a United Nations embargo on Iranian weapons sales.
Both the White House and the State Department said Tuesday that the Iraqi government was denying the deal. But that was only after after the Reuters report had also triggered a harsh reaction among Iraqi opposition politicians in Baghdad.
A coalition of mainly Sunni Muslim political leaders — led by Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq — issued a statement expressing outrage on Tuesday that the Shiite Muslim-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had reportedly cut the deal with Iran “behind closed doors.”
According to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense statement circulated on Tuesday, Iraq has actually received weapons offers from a host of nations. What remains unclear is whether the Maliki government actively solicited such an offer from Iran — and the extent to which that may impinge upon the U.N.’s existing embargo.
“Based on the need of our armed forces for some ammunition for light weapons and night vision equipment to fill the shortage of some of our military units, offers were submitted from several international firms,” the Iraqi Ministry of Defense said.
The ministry said proposals came in from “various countries including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia, China, Ukraine and Pakistan, in addition to the Iranian Defense Industries Organization, which submitted their bids and delivery schedules.”
“Preference was given to other companies and no contract was signed with the Iranian company,” the statement said.
In a related development, Washington is going forward with its own weapons deal with the Maliki government. Last month, the U.S. Congress lifted its objections to a planned sale of 24 Apache helicopters, Hellfire missiles and other advanced weapons to Iraq.
At the time, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, Mr. Mutlaq, urged the American government to consider attaching conditions to that deal which would protect Iraqi citizens from having their human rights violated by the Iraqi military — especially as the Iraqi army attempts to route Sunni extremists from the city of Fallujah.