WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Despite having relied on the US to fight the Islamic State (IS), Baghdad has just taken delivery of a major shipment of Russian military equipment and is considering further such arms purchases.
Iraq announced earlier this week that 73 Russian T-90 tanks had arrived at its southern port of Umm Qasr. The tank purchase was agreed upon some time ago, but other reports suggest that Baghdad may now buy the Russian S-400 air defense system.
If Baghdad proceeds with the S-400 purchase, it could well oblige the Trump administration to impose sanctions on the country. Such a move would be mandated by a bill known as CAATSA, “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” which President Donald Trump signed into law last summer.
CAATSA requires the administration to impose sanctions on any party which “engages in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors” of the Russian Federation.
The US is loathe to criticize Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and his government because it is counting on him to win Iraq’s upcoming elections. However, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert essentially explained on Thursday that if Iraq were to actually conclude a deal for the purchase of the S-400, it would likely trigger CAATSA sanctions.
“We are communicating with governments all around the world, such as Iraq and others, about the CAATSA law,” Nauert said, in response to a question from Kurdistan 24.
We are “making those governments aware of how they could run afoul” of the law “and the potential repercussions,” she explained.
Ankara is even further along this path than Baghdad. In December, it actually signed a $2.5 billion deal for the purchase of the S-400.
Egypt and Sudan are also potential customers for the S-400, the Chairman of the Defense and Security Committee in Russia’s Federation Council (the parliament’s upper house) said last month.
Egypt is one of America’s closest Arab allies and receives over $1 billion a year in US aid.
The Saudi newspaper al-Watan reported last week that Baghdad was considering the same purchase and that Abadi had ordered a government team to negotiate the matter with Russia. At the same time, the Saudi paper reported that the US had objected to the conclusion of any such deal.
However, according to al-Watan, the matter had been discussed within a quadrilateral intelligence cell in Baghdad, consisting of Iranian, Russian, and Syrian officers, as well as their Iraqi hosts.
In September 2015, Baghdad announced the formation of a “Joint Operations Command” to share intelligence about IS. The new JOC included Iran, Russia, and Syria, as The New York Times reported at the time. The US was not consulted, or even informed, in advance, and the announcement of the new command caught Washington by surprise.