Thursday, October 4, 2007

Iraq turns to China for arms

Iraq turns to China for arms Font Size: BAGHDAD: Iraq has ordered $US100 million ($113 million) worth of military equipment from China for its police force, claiming the US is unable to provide the material and is too slow to deliver arms shipments.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that the China deal had alarmed military analysts, who had said Iraq's security forces were already unable to account for more than 190,000 weapons supplied by the US. Many of these weapons are believed to be in the hands of Shia and Sunni militias and insurgents.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, meeting with Post editors and reporters yesterday, said only one in five Iraqi police officers was armed and called for faster weapons delivery from the US to beef up Iraq's fledgling army.

The capabilities of Iraqi security forces are pivotal to the US exit strategy in Iraq, with the creation of a viable police force critical to reconciliation.

The report said the Chinese arms deal shed light on the larger dispute between the US and Iraq over rebuilding the war-torn nation's armed forces and police. Iraqi officials have long complained about the supply of weapons and equipment for their personnel.

Mr Talabani yesterday expressed frustration with delays in equipping the Iraqi forces.

The report said Iraq had become one of the largest buyers of US-made weapons. It noted that US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus had told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that Baghdad had signed deals to buy arms worth $US1.6billion, with a further $US1.8billion in possible purchases.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told the paper the US was "working closely" to help Iraq obtain "appropriate and necessary" military equipment. But US officials conceded there were delivery problems.

News of the deal came as a daring ambush in Baghdad left Poland's ambassador to Iraq pinned inside a burning vehicle before he was pulled to safety and airlifted in a rescue mission by the embattled security firm Blackwater USA. At least three people were killed, including a Polish bodyguard.

Wednesday's attack - apparently well planned and in one of Baghdad's most secure districts - raised questions about whether insurgents might have sought to punish Poland for its contributions to the US-led military force in Iraq.

Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said his nation would not retreat "in the face of terrorists."

The diplomatic convoy was hit by three bombs in the Shia-controlled Karradah district and then attackers opened fire.

Polish guards returned fire as the injured ambassador, General Edward Pietrzyk, was pulled from the burning vehicle.

US embassy officials sent Blackwater helicopters to evacuate the ambassador and others.

General Pietrzyk suffered minor burns to 20 per cent of his body, including his head and right arm and leg.

Shortly after the assault, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki renewed his Government's offensive against Blackwater for its role in a September 16 shootout that left 11 Iraqis dead, and other incidents.

"There have been 190 victims of Blackwater ... The kind of accusations levelled against the company means it is not fit to work in Iraq," he said.

It was not known if Mr Maliki knew Blackwater had rescued the Polish envoy.

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