Iraq’s leader to seek arms with deferred payment on US visit
WASHINGTON - Reuters
AP PhotoIraq’s prime minister will seek President Barack Obama’s help to acquire billions of dollars in drones and other U.S. arms to fight Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during a U.S. visit next week, a senior Iraqi official said.
Facing a cash crunch due to a plunge in oil prices and a budget deficit of roughly $21 billion this year, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi wants to defer payment for the purchases, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Abadi is grappling with an insurgency by militants from ISIL that emerged from the chaos in Iraq and neighboring Syria and seized much of northern and central Iraq last year.
Visiting Washington for the first time as prime minister, he hopes to convince a war-weary United States Iraq deserves more U.S. manpower and arms three years after U.S. troops withdrew from the country in December 2011, as his fledgling army confronts ISIL.
“ISIL is everybody’s problem now,” said the Iraqi official. “You can’t run away from the problem if it comes to Canada or goes to France,” he said in reference to attacks by people influenced by ISIL or al-Qaeda in those countries.
The official hinted Baghdad could turn to Tehran if it did not get the aid it wants from Washington.
“If that’s not available, we’ve already done it with the Iranians and others,” he said, saying that was not the first choice. “The PM is committed to the U.S. ... What he also wants to make sure is that he has a partner that he can rely on.”
Obama in August authorized the first U.S. air strikes on Iraq since the U.S. withdrawal and has deployed about 3,000 American military forces to help Iraq to battle the group. But he has also imposed limits on the U.S. military role on the ground to training and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces.
The official said Abadi, who is to meet Obama on April 14, wanted to explore obtaining a series of advanced weapons, including unarmed drone aircraft, Apache attack helicopters manufactured by Boeing Co and ammunition. He will also seek permission to postpone payment for the weaponry.
“We’re talking about billions here,” he said. “This is a new approach for us because of the scale of the challenge we have ahead. Mosul and Nineveh province and Anbar will cost us a lot.”
National Security Council spokesman Alistair Baskey said the United States will continue to consult Iraq’s leaders to ensure they have what they need to fight ISIL.
“The United States is committed to providing essential equipment to Iraqi security forces, including Kurdish forces, as part of the Coalition fight against ISIL,” he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told reporters on a visit to Hawaii he expected to meet Abadi in Washington. Asked whether the United States would consider providing equipment including Apache helicopters on deferred payment, he replied:
“We will consider any request he makes we have been conducting all of our support to the counter-ISIL campaign in Iraq through the Iraqi government and that’s the way we want to keep doing it.”