One country stands out as being caught in the cross-hairs of the ongoing dispute between Iran and the United States: Iraq.
On January 3, on the orders of U.S. President Donald Trump, a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force. However, Iraqi authorities were not informed of the strike, and later in the week, Iraq’s parliament voted to send American troops packing.
As a result, Iraq intends to improve its air defense capabilities using the Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air defense system. Mohammad Reza, the head of the defense and security committee in the Iraqi parliament, said on Thursday that the Iraqi government resumed negotiations regarding the S-300 deal following the attacks on Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also known as Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi.
“A few months ago, after attacks on the Shiite militia bases of Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi in Baghdad and other provinces, the need for these weapons arose and the responsible party resumed negotiations on the S-300 contract,” RIA Novosti quoted Reza as saying.
Al-Hashd Al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization comprised of roughly 40 militias that are mostly Shia Muslim groups, but also include Sunni Muslim, Christian, and Yazidi groups. It was established from disparate armed groups and volunteers that united to fight against the Islamic State (IS) that had swept across a third of Iraq in 2014.
“We expect opposition from the U.S. on this matter,” Ridha stressed, recalling the September’s talks on purchasing of the S-300, which were abandoned after Washington's fierce objection.
The S-300 is a long-range surface-to-air missile system similar to early versions of the U.S.’ Patriot system.
Ridha noted that Iraq already possesses some Russian-made weapons, yet the Iraqi government intends to ramp up purchases of more Russian military equipment by up to 50 percent, especially considering that it is more affordable than America’s.
But the purchase of the S-300 air defense system from Russia – the world’s second-largest military weapons producer behind the U.S. – may come at a heavy price for Iraq, as Russian missiles are subject to the U.S.’ Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was adopted by the Trump Administration in 2017.
CAATSA puts under the threat of sanctions any country engaged in what the U.S. Treasury Department terms a “significant transaction” with Russian defense and intelligence sectors. However, the threat of sanctions did not prevent China, Turkey or India from doing business with Russia.