The Iraqi government said yesterday it had cancelled a $4.2 billion deal to buy military jets, helicopters and missiles from Russia, citing possible corruption in the contract.
In a confusing exchange, the announcement by Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki's office was immediately contradicted by the acting defence minister who denied the corruption charges, claiming the deals were still valid.
US military hardware remains key for Iraq's armed forces, but security analysts said the Russian deal had appeared to open a way for Maliki to resist US political pressure by diversifying his arms suppliers.
The Russian deal was agreed just as Washington warned the Iraqi Shia leader to curb Iranian flights ferrying weapons through Iraqi airspace to aid Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in his fight against a revolt there.
Maliki's media adviser Ali Al Moussawi said the decision to renegotiate the agreements was taken after the prime minister was informed about possible wrongdoing in the contract.
"Our need for weapons still stands so we will renegotiate new contracts," Moussawi said. "This is a precautionary measure because of suspected corruption." But acting Defence Minister Sadoon Al Dulaimi, who negotiated with the Russians, dismissed the corruption charges.
"We have not transferred even one dinar, there was no agent, no contract was signed. These were just technical and financial offers," he said.
Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport declined to comment. Russia's Interfax news agency also said the Russian embassy in Iraq said it had not been informed the deal had been scrapped.
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