Moscow poised to rearm Iraqis

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The Independent Online
Moscow is ready to resume arms supplies to Iraq once United Nations sanctions have been lifted, according to Russian and Iraqi sources.

Last month the Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, signed a big arms and military-equipment deal with Iraq's deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz.This followed an unpublicised meeting in July between Mr Kozyrev and Mr Aziz in St. Petersburg, attended

by senior military and intelligence officers, and extensive contacts between the two sides in Switzerland, Austria, Cyprus as well as Iraq and Russia.

The Russians are to supply Baghdad with heavyequipment to replace armour, air defences and radar systems destroyed during the Gulf war.

The deal also includes modernising Iraq's forces and rebuilding airbases.

Groups of Iraqi officers from the Air Defence Corps are to be trained in Russia for work on communications and signal intelligence. Russia was President Saddam Hussein's main arms supplier following the signing of a friendship treaty in 1971, but in the

late 1980s the French began to competeand overtook the Russians in supplying air-defence systems, naval hardware and aircraft.

Iraq has agreed to give Russia a "preferential trade status and priority payment" before other suppliers, as well as starting to pay for the new contracts as soon as the UN sanctions are lifted and Iraqi oil sales are allowed again. "This is important," said one Russian source," because Russia is now at the top of the list of Iraqi debtors."

More than 20 foreign countries are owed several billion dollars by the Iraqis for projects abandoned after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The Russians signed another multi-million-dollar contract with Baghdad in August to resume oilfield and refinery projects which were interrupted by the sanctions.