Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Iraq's defence ministry to spend $1.5 bn. on new weapons

(AFP) - Iraq's defence ministry will buy new weapons worth more than 1.5 billion dollars (1.11 billion euros), including helicopters and US rifles, the minister announced on Monday. The purchases will be made possible by a 26 percent increase in the country's defence budget, to 4.1 billion dollars (three billion euros) for the current fiscal year.
"The Iraqi government has signed a contract with the American government to set up a foreign weapons sales office to buy weapons that Iraq needs," Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim Mohammed said at a Baghdad press conference. "This programme will help Iraq to buy modern weapons and to ensure arrival of these weapons when the ministry asks for them," he added.
Iraq has started importing American-made M-16 and M-4 rifles, which are slowly replacing the ubiquitous Soviet-designed AK-47 Kalashnikov among the Iraqi forces struggling to bring order to the country. Mohammed is also looking to beef up the country's air force and navy with the purchase of 29 Soviet-designed M-17 helicopters, six reconnaissance planes, 10 patrol boats from Italy and 26 from the United States.
The gradual switchover from the AK-47 to the M-16 began earlier this month, when a graduating class of Iraqi military recruits became the first of 1,600 rookie soldiers to start receiving the weapons. The M-16 fires a 5.56mm round, standard among most modern armies and lighter than the 7.62mm used in the rugged Kalashnikov.
Iraq is awash with Kalashnikovs looted from ousted dictator Saddam Hussein's defunct armed forces, smuggled from around the region by militants and imported by the United States to arm new Iraqi security units. Many go missing from official stocks, but the new generation of US-made weapons will be issued to individual soldiers, whose photographs and biometric data will be recorded next to their guns' serial numbers to deter fraud.

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