CAIRO - A spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki announced the suspension Saturday of a $4.2 billion arms deal between Baghdad and Moscow. A spokesman for Maliki, Ali Moussawi, told Iraqi state TV that the prime minister had decided to re-examine the arms deal with Russia, after discovering apparent graft and corruption.
Moussawi says that an Iraqi parliamentary committee is investigating the deal, which points to corruption on the part of both Russian and Iraqi officials. For that reason, he says Maliki decided to renegotiate the deal with Moscow, including types of weapons, prices and quantities.
A member of parliament, Sabah al-Saadi, told journalists a large sum could have been skimmed from the $4.2 billion deal.
Al-Saadi says that none of the details of the deal have officially been released, but that the amount of corruption in the arms deal could top $190,000. He adds that this scandal and other scandals could force the resignation of the government, since the prime minister himself signed the deal and should have known what was happening.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin fired both his defense minister and his top army commander this past week for alleged, but unspecified acts of corruption.
Iraq's acting defense minister Sa'adoun al Duleimi told a press conference in Baghdad Saturday that adversaries of Maliki were trying to kill the arms deal with Russia because they wanted the country to remain weak.
Al Duleimi says that Iraq agreed to buy a portion of its arms from Russia to diversify its sources, and not fall under the sway of anyone. But, he claims that some Iraqi politicians do not want the Iraqi military to be strong since they have their own militias, which they want to be stronger than the government. Al Duleimi also accuses them of having ties to foreign states.
Duleimi, who was part of the Iraqi delegation which concluded the arms deal in Moscow, insisted there was no corruption involved, since "no money changed hands and no contract was signed."
The Russian daily newspaper Kommersant indicated last month that the deal included 42 short and medium range surface-to-air missiles, as well as the Pantsir-1 anti-aircraft weapons system. The United States has urged Russia in the past not to sell the Pantsir-1 to neighboring Iran and Syria. Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is an ally of both countries.
Analyst James Denselow of King's College London argues that the apparent Iraqi decision to review or cancel the arms deal with Moscow indicates that Baghdad's governing system is finally working and showing signs of independence.
"The government's decisions now are very much independent, and the fact that we're talking about a country potentially signing large-scale arms deals with Russia whilst the American F-15s remain a sort of carrot show you that the Iraqis are developing for the first time proper sovereignty and independent foreign policy that allows them to play off great powers against each other," said Denselow.
The Arab daily newspaper Asharqalawsat reported Saturday that the head of the Iraqi parliament's Integrity Committee sent a memorandum to Maliki demanding that the arms deal be canceled. He insisted that the prime minister did not have the authority to conclude such a deal without the authorization of parliament, and that reports of graft needed to be investigated.
The head of Iraq's central bank, Sinan Shabibi, who recently fled the country amid charges of embezzlement, is also under parliamentary investigation.