Following Scrapped Russian Deal Iraqis Say Country Needs Progress More Than Arms

02/12/2012 RUDAW –  By JASIM ALSABAWI – BAGHDAD, Iraq – Emerging from decades of war, ordinary Iraqis say their struggling country needs economic progress more than weapons, after Baghdad signed a $4.2 billion arms deal with Russia in October but cancelled the agreement the next month.

Many Iraqis say that the aborted arms deal had reminded them of life under Saddam Hussein, the ousted dictator who built up his military and drove the country into the 1980-88 war with neighboring Iran and disastrous confrontations with the United States that followed his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

“Iraq does not need any weapons systems,” said Ahmed Karim, a nurse in Baghdad. “This country has just come out of hardship and it should avoid militarization,” he said, referring to the US-led occupation that ended last year, after the last American troops who landed during the 2003 invasion pulled out.

Iraq’s tragedies, killings and sectarian violence all stemmed from the abundance of weapons in the country, Karim said, adding that the scrapped arms deal “reminds us of the days of the old regime that left all Iraqis at the mercy of wars.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose government had finalized the weapons deal with Russia in October, scrapped the agreement last month, alleging that officials from the defense ministry had gained illegally from the contract. Government employee Batul Faeq agreed that the country needs weapons, but said that reform and wise economic policies are currently more important priorities. “As Iraqis we believe that the country does not need jet fighters and tanks to protect itself as much as it needs economic planning and reform in social and government institutions,” said Faeq. “The government should serve higher goals.”

Maliki’s deal with Russia had included dozens of MiG fighter planes, attack helicopters, panther tanks and surface-to-surface missiles.Though rich in oil and gas, Iraq has been struggling to rebuild its war-torn industries since Saddam’s fall.

Bushra al-Ubeidi, professor of international law at Baghdad University, said that Iraq has the potential to emerge as a successful country, but that its leaders were walking the path of the previous regime.

“Saddam Hussein built giant weapons factories which paralyzed the economy.  And what was the result? All the weapons that cost us billions were destroyed and the country is now in huge debts.” She said that the country needs real statesmen to put it back on its feet. Shakir Salman, a 48-year-old street vendor selling men’s clothing in Baghdad, said that the ambitions of ordinary Iraqis who are preoccupied with day-to-day hardships differ from those of its leaders.

“This government signs weapons deals worth billions and it sends aid to Syria and Gaza, while people live in poverty and deprivation. This is unacceptable,” he said, recounting how he had recently lost his livelihood and been reduced to a virtual beggar after his vending cart was destroyed by fire.

Secondary school teacher Luna Botrous said she had hoped that Saddam’s fall would be the end of Iraqi suffering and poverty. “But almost 80 percent of the people are afflicted by poverty. The rest are political businessmen who prospered in the new Iraq and do not care what happens to the people,” she said. “Did the Iraqi people come out of years of war only to be drawn into another conflict through the government’s militarization?” she asked. Military relations between Moscow and Baghdad, which began in the late 1950s, continued until the 1990 UN Security Council ban on arms sales to Iraq.