Baghdad Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki called Sunday for the US to speed up the transfer of weapons to Iraq, which lacks the ability to defend its airspace or borders, six months after American troops withdrew.
The Iraqi premier also pointedly said during a meeting with General James Mattis, the visiting head of US Central Command, that only the central government would decide which arms purchases would be made, in an apparent swipe at Kurdish complaints over the acquisition of F-16 warplanes.
“His excellency called for the acceleration of equipping the army, in a way that makes it able to defend Iraq, and its sovereignty and independence,” a statement issued by the premier’s office said.
It quoted Al Maliki as saying that Iraq did “not want to transgress upon anyone, and we reject anyone transgressing upon us or infringing on our sovereignty.”
Al Maliki added that “the policy of equipping should be federal and in accordance with what the federal government specifies is a priority and a need.”
Iraq has agreed to acquire American military equipment worth more than $10 billion, including 36 F-16 warplanes which are not expected to be delivered for years, but also tanks, artillery, helicopters and patrol boats.
While the army is regarded as able to maintain internal security, Iraqi and American officials acknowledge it cannot protect Iraq’s airspace, borders or territorial waters.
Until last year, when US forces withdrew from Iraq, American troops had helped Baghdad carry out those tasks.
The F-16 purchase has raised alarm bells in the northern Kurdistan region, with Kurdish president Massoud Barzani saying earlier this year he was opposed to the sale of the warplanes while Al Maliki was prime minister, as he fears they would be used against Kurdistan.
He later softened those remarks, but regional prime minister Nechirvan Barzani, the president’s nephew, warned in May of the continued desire for “ethnic cleansing” from Iraqi politicians, though he did not specifically point fingers at any in particular.