By Ahmad Al-Rubaye, AFP/Getty Images
Iraq is preparing to buy as much as $13 billion in American arms and military equipment, a huge order of tanks, ships and hardware that U.S. officials say shows Iraqi-U.S. military ties will be tight for years to come.
With combat operations officially ended, Vice President Biden and Iraqi officials gathered this week at a ceremony at the main U.S. base near Baghdad Airport to mark U.S. troops' transition to an advisory role that focuses on assisting Iraqi security forces. The number of U.S. service members has dropped below 50,000. All U.S. forces are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of next year.
Military sales, which often include lengthy maintenance and training contracts, are part of U.S. efforts to maintain a relationship with Iraq. About half the $13 billion in sales are finalized contracts, and the rest are still in negotiations.
The sales will make Iraq among the world's biggest customers for American military arms and equipment. The Iraq Defense Ministry intends to transform the country's degraded conventional forces into a state-of-the-art military.
Part of the planned purchase includes M-1 tanks, the main battle tank for the U.S. military. Iraq wants to buy 140 of the tanks, and Iraqi crews have already started training on them.