Ten years after the invasion that toppled former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and smashed Iraq’s military, the country has become a major buyer of military equipment, spending billions to rebuild its armed forces.
In doing so, Iraq has become a customer of some of the same companies that supplied the weapons used to attack Baghdad’s troops in 2003.
US-led forces carried out a massive bombing campaign and then a ground offensive against Iraq in March that year.
The campaign rapidly wrested control of the country from a military once considered among the strongest in the region, but which was hard-hit by Saddam’s 1980-1988 war with Iran and the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait.
Paul Bremer, then the US administrator of Iraq, disbanded its military, helping fuel the insurgency that was to consume the country for years to come. Even now, Iraqi security forces are still rebuilding.
The “Iraqi army ... started from zero, so it needs many things,” Iraq’s top officer, Lieutenant General Babaker Zebari, told reporters at a security and defense exhibition in Baghdad.
According to the Iraqi defense ministry, about 54 companies from 13 countries participated in the show, advertising equipment ranging from jet aircraft, drones, missiles and shells to gas masks, uniforms and boots.
With a security and defense budget of about US$16.4 billion for this year and a commitment to rebuilding its forces, Iraq offers significant opportunities for defense and security firms.
“From a vendor’s perspective, between the US and Iraqi funding, there’s been a lot of money spent on defense goods and equipment in this country,” said Chris King of Britain-based BAE Systems, one of the companies at the expo.
“They’re buying F-16s, they’re buying M1A1 tanks, they’ve bought equipment from other countries. So, there’s a market here,” King said.
“The Iraqi market is increasing, or at least it seems to be a market that’s going to continue to spend on procurement at some steady level, if not a larger level over time,” he said.
The Iraqis aim “to rebuild their military, air force and everything, so there are many [areas] to cooperate with them as far as defense companies’ point of view,” Choi Sang of Korea Aerospace Industries said.
Musab Alkateeb of US-based Honeywell International added that Iraq is “purchasing a great deal of equipment,” and its “procurement activity is sufficient to warrant interest from international firms.”
Representatives of aerospace companies were especially interested in advertising their jet training aircraft, given Iraq’s need for advanced trainers to complement the 36 F-16 warplanes it has ordered from the US.
Though US troops departed Iraq in December 2011, the US is still the main arms supplier for the country, which has taken delivery of US military equipment ranging from M113 armored personnel carriers and M1 Abrams tanks to M-16 assault rifles.
The US has also assisted Iraq in fielding equipment and training.
Iraqi security forces have held their own since the US withdrawal, keeping violence to roughly the same level as before American forces departed.
However, while violence has fallen from its peak in 2006 and 2007, Iraq is still beset by frequent bombings and shootings, which killed 220 people last month, according to an Agence France-Presse toll based on security and medical sources.
And Iraqi forces continue to face issues such as checkpoints and other positions that are sometimes poorly defended or otherwise exposed to attack, and soldiers and police who frequently disregard basic gun safety rules.