Baghdad: The United States and Iraq's defence ministry have embarked on a major plan to bolster the country's military capability substantially by 2020, Gulf News has learnt.

In an exclusive interview, Babaker Zebari, chief of staff of the Iraqi army, said by the end of 2010 the army, which now has 14 units comprising about 263,000 soldiers, will no longer be exclusively used to tackle the insurgency but will also be involved in national defence, which requires much greater resources and technology.

The plan involves building an army as strong as those of Iran, Turkey and Syria by the end of 2020, Zebari said.

"The us and Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) have committed to supplying Iraq with sophisticated weaponry aimed at improving its defences," he added.


The army chief said the defence forces will be armed with jet fighters, artillery, rocket systems, combat helicopters and advanced transport aircraft and warships, which is a significant input for a deterrent army capable of facing any war in the region.

Zebari said Iraq has secured a deal under which Italy will provide six warships.

Four will be delivered soon and the other two will be deployed near Basra in the Arabian Gulf.

A secret study at the Iraqi Defence Ministry said: "The interest of the US over the medium term is to build an Iraqi army with tremendous regional capability and some quality offensive weapons, on condition that this capacity will not be used to intervene in a war between the Arab countries and Israel. The US strategic goal is to build a peer Iraqi army and perhaps superior to Iran in the next ten years."

Support for strategy

The study revealed that the Sunnis support the US strategy in which the Iraqi army would confront Iran, of course, and the Kurds also support it against any Turkish aggression in northern Iraq, but the Shiites in the country were more confused about this strategy, which they feel will most likely be directed against Iran.

The study said Israel opposes the existence of a strong Iraqi army and the Israeli lobby in the United States has expressed its rejection of this strategy for fear that the Iraqi army might some day be used against Israel.