Historical arms deal between Iraq and Iran reinforces disagreements within the international community

By Mattijs Messely, MEDEA Institute

The arms deal, with a total value of approximately 200 million dollar, that was agreed upon recently by Iran and Iraq is certainly remarkable because of how fast the deal was closed and the obscurity that surrounds it. Observers say to be surprised by the pace of current affairs and the new turn of events this means for some major events in the Middle-East. Reuters has learned some days ago about the total of eight contracts for different military products, such as weaponry and electronics. The United States have the concerning countries to clarify this deal, because of the high sensibility regarding this matter. Both countries neither deny nor confirm, although Iraq adds to its response that a possible existence of such an arms deal would be valid.

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© PressTV.ir, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani (R) and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki meet in Tehran on December 5, 2013

The fact that this contract surprises many is because of the United Nations arms embargo currently in effect for Iran which prohibits, according to resolution 1747 of the UN Security Council, any country to acquire any sort of weaponry made in Iran. Adding to this situation are the negotiations that started in February between Iran and the five permanent Security Council members with Germany about the nuclear capacity of Iran, coordinated by Catherine Ashton, head of the European foreign policy. Because of the politically volatile and important times, this arms deal reinforces the disagreements between several countries.

On the other hand, the arms deal is not that remarkable. First of all, Iraq has asked the United States already in November of 2013 to buy additional weapons. Washington, however, has not followed through on this demand because of the high political sensitivity surrounding the dossier. According to some insiders Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki is fed up with the delays of the American arms deliveries. Whether the United States are going to support Iraq on a military level now the country has signed the deal with Iran is very doubtful.

Secondly, there are some internal and external factors that explain this Iranian-Iraqi approach. Internally the last few months have been characterised by augmented sectarian tensions and violence in several parts of Iraq. The ISIS – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – has increased its influence and control over the area of Fallujah and Ramadi. This fundamentalist group is ever more active in different countries in the Middle-East and has cut of the area between the city of Fallujah and the border with Syria from the central authorities in Baghdad. Saudi-Arabia is accused of delivering arms and other support to the ISIS in order to increase its power in the whole region. Shiite as well as Sunni ministers of the Iraqi government are searching for ways to better the ties with the Shiite leaders in Iran because of, according to some, trying to give an accurate response to the Saudi – and also, American – geopolitics in the Middle-East. According to Ali Mussawi, spokesperson of the Iraqi government, Iraq has as goal to conduct a comprehensive war on terror against fighting fractions such as the ISIS. The core of this message is to reiterate the central authority of Nouri Al-Maliki’s government amidst the increasing sectarian violence in Iraq and, at the same time, disapprove of the influence of other parties. However, according to the spokesperson Ali Mussawi, the Iraqi government is not out on a conflict with other countries. Sceptics point out that Al-Maliki has been systematically fortifying his political power and that this arms deal especially serves his own political interests.

Among others, the European Union is critically overseeing the events in Iraq, because of the bilateral economic interests. The EU has – just like the US – some own sanctions against Iran in effect, such as blocking the relations between Iranian financial institutions and other countries. In contrast, the European Commission and the European Council have as goal to further reinforce the ties with Iraq regarding trade and the EU has given since 2003 financial aid to the country. However, how this arms deal will affect the relations between Iraq and the defenders of the UN arms embargo and what the consequences are for the different countries in the region is a matter of speculation. This historical deal between two former enemies is a whole new element in a strategically important region where ancient separating lines and new political and economic interests meet.