An Iraqi politician stated this week that Baghdad will turn to Russia for airvdefense equipment if it cannot procure modern systems from the United States.
The chairman of the Security and Defense Committee of the Iraqi Parliament, Mohammed Redha al-Haidar, said this week, “Iraq needs to upgrade its air defense system to protect its sovereignty and prevent any violation of the Iraqi airspace.” He contended that the systems currently in service – a mix of U.S.- and Russian-origin equipment – are ineffective to guard Iraqi airspace.
The Iraqi military currently operates the M1097 Avenger as well as the Pantsir S-1 system, in addition to the Stinger and Sa-24 MANPADS.
Al-Haidar said that Baghdad is looking at Russian-made S-300 and S-400 long-range surface-to-air missile systems, which it might opt to procure if the U.S. does not offer to sell Iraq modern equipment. He did not indicate which American systems Iraq might be looking to acquire.
In August of last year, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi ordered that all military aircraft seeking to use Iraqi airspace obtain his explicit permission to operate. He stated that “any violation of Iraq’s airspace shall be considered hostile and be dealt with immediately by the Iraqi air defense.”
Earlier in 2020, the prime minister accused the U.S. of violating bilateral agreements between the two, after the U.S. carried out a drone strike that killed IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani. The U.S. said it launched the strike in retaliation for a string of anti-American incidents – including rocket fire targeting American forces as well as the partial storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad – believed to have been carried out by Iran-backed militias. Several days after Soleimani’s killing, Iran fired several missiles at Iraqi bases housing American troops, prompting Iraqi President Barham Salih to condemn Iran’s “repeated violation of Iraqi sovereignty and its transformation of Iraq into a battlefield for confrontation between belligerent parties.”
Iraq has also denounced Turkey at times in the past when that country’s Air Force has conducted air strikes on Iraqi soil. The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said in December 2018 that it had summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Iraq after Turkish air strikes hit suspected Kurdish militant positions in northern Iraq.
In recent years, Iraqi officials have frequently mentioned interest in purchasing the S-400 from Russia as a way to bolster the country’s air defense network and deter violations. A new air defense system would offer Iraq greater military capability to prevent intrusions, though Baghdad would remain wary of the potential military and political fallout should it target airspace violators.
A Russian military-diplomatic source told Interfax last month that Iraq has yet to submit a formal request for the S-400.
Should Iraq choose to move forward with a purchase of the S-400, it risks American sanctions under the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which is designed to pressure third parties away from the products of the Russian defense industry. After Turkey purchased the S-400, the U.S. curtailed that country’s participation in the F-35 fighter jet program.