US plans sale of tank rounds to embattled Iraqi army

The United States plans to sell $600 million worth of armor-piercing tank rounds to Iraq, officials said Tuesday, part of a push to shore up Baghdad`s embattled army against advancing Islamic State jihadists.

AFP| Updated: Oct 22, 2014, 06:09 AM IST

Washnington: The United States plans to sell $600 million worth of armor-piercing tank rounds to Iraq, officials said Tuesday, part of a push to shore up Baghdad`s embattled army against advancing Islamic State jihadists.

The move follows efforts by Washington to speed up arms sales and the delivery of Hellfire missiles, helicopter rockets, rifles and other weapons and ammunition to Iraqi security forces, who are struggling to fend off an onslaught from the IS group in the country`s north and west.

The planned sale involves 46,000 rounds of various 120-millimeter tank ammunition for Iraq`s American-made M1A1 Abrams tanks, as well as logistical and technical support, officials said. 

The deal reflects stepped-up assistance for Baghdad and the intensity of recent combat in Iraq, where government forces and Kurdish fighters are battling the IS group on multiple fronts.

"This is part of our effort to expedite defense materials to the government of Iraq in support of the fight against ISIL (IS)," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.

The State Department approved the proposed sale on Monday, and -- like all US arms sales -- Congress has 30 days to raise objections to the deal, which officials said was unlikely. After that 30-day period, the two governments can conclude the details of the sale.

The Pentagon has provided Iraq with $650 million worth of ammunition and small arms this year, including tank rounds, machine guns, grenades and other supplies, spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.

The United States also has rushed the delivery of about 1,100 Hellfire missiles this year, and Baghdad has purchased another 800 that are due to begin arriving in November, Kirby said.

Since the IS group began its dramatic advance across western and northern Iraq, the Baghdad government has asked to buy thousands of the missiles, which it mostly fires from its small fleet of AC-208 Cessna Caravan aircraft.

The air-to-ground missile carries a 20-pound warhead capable of destroying tanks and armored vehicles.

In July, the Pentagon announced a planned sale of an additional 5,000 Hellfire missiles to Iraq.

The United States has also delivered 19,896 rockets for Iraqi helicopters and thousands of machine guns, grenades, sniper rifles and M-16 and M-4 assault rifles.

But a proposed sale of Apache helicopters worth more than $6 billion has fallen through. After earlier delays and objections from some US lawmakers, Iraq purchased other Russian-made aircraft.

Before a large US ground force withdrew from Iraq in 2011, the United States spent $24 billion on arming and training the Iraqi army. But despite its US hardware and weaponry, the Iraqi forces collapsed in retreat earlier this year in the face of the IS offensive.