The New York Times reports: The Obama administration is moving ahead with the sale of nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi military despite concerns that Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is seeking to consolidate authority, create a one-party Shiite-dominated state and abandon the American-backed power-sharing government.
The military aid, including advanced fighter jets and battle tanks, is meant to help the Iraqi government protect its borders and rebuild a military that before the 1991 Persian Gulf war was one of the largest in the world; it was disbanded in 2003 after the United States invasion.
But the sales of the weapons — some of which have already been delivered — are moving ahead even though Mr. Maliki has failed to carry out an agreement that would have limited his ability to marginalize the Sunnis and turn the military into a sectarian force. While the United States is eager to beef up Iraq’s military, at least in part as a hedge against Iranian influence, there are also fears that the move could backfire if the Baghdad government ultimately aligns more closely with the Shiite theocracy in Tehran than with Washington.
United States diplomats, including Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, have expressed concern about the military relationship with Iraq. Some have even said it could have political ramifications for the Obama administration if not properly managed. There is also growing concern that Mr. Maliki’s apparent efforts to marginalize the country’s Sunni minority could set off a civil war.
“The optics of this are terrible,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, an expert on national security issues at the Brookings Institution in Washington and a critic of the administration’s Iraq policy.
The program to arm the military is being led by the United States Embassy here, which through its Office of Security Cooperation serves as a broker between the Iraqi government and defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. Among the big-ticket items being sold to Iraq are F-16 fighter jets, M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, cannons and armored personnel carriers. The Iraqis have also received body armor, helmets, ammunition trailers and sport utility vehicles, which critics say can be used by domestic security services to help Mr. Maliki consolidate power.