MOSCOW - It has only recently emerged that Russia and Iraq have been secretly working on major arms deals. During Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's visit to Moscow in October, it was revealed that Iraq had already signed a contract to purchase 30 Russian-built military helicopters and 42 rocket launchers for $4.2 billion, with plans to purchase additional Russian fighter planes.
However, this past Saturday an advisor to Al-Maliki announced that the Russian-Iraqi contract was cancelled. “When Al-Maliki returned from Russia, he was suspicious about corruption in this contract. That is why he decided to re-examine the whole deal,” Ali Musavi, the advisor, announced, adding that there was an investigation underway.
Immediately after the suprise announcement, Iraqi military officials tried to smooth things over, with Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi holding a press conference denying the details of Musavi’s announcement. He suggested that there might have been a misunderstanding because of delays in the delivery of information to Iraq’s anti-corruption committee. But he stressed that the deal was still on.
Regardless of such assurances, Moscow is demanding an official explanation from Baghdad. “We are already in the middle of negotiations with our Iraqi counterparts, clarifying their position, including the contradictory announcements on Saturday,” a Russian government source told Kommersant. “We did not receive any notification of a change in plans on Baghdad’s part.”
According to Kommersant’s sources, neither of the government agencies responsible for handling the contract were notified about a possible cancellation of the contract, nor did the information make its way through government channels.
U.S. return on investment?
Kommersant’s sources said that there could be complications in the contract, but that they would come from a third party. “The United States has spent significant effort to disrupt the deal,” said one source close to the Russian government. “I would not be surprised if they tried to break it up or complicate it after it's done.”
Another military source was more blunt: “The Americans didn’t fight in Iraq for so many years to then give away the weapons market to Russia.”
Yet another source knowledgable with the Russian military exports explained that the first post-Soviet country to try to sell weapons in Iraq was Ukraine, but Russia beat them to it. That might have engendered hard feelings in Kiev.
Opponents to the deal have drawn particular attention to the cost -- $4.2 billion -- and tried to convince Baghdad that this was grossly overpriced for the goods Iraq would receive. As proof, the deal’s opponents brought out a 2006 deal between Russia and Syria that they said demonstrated that the Iraq deal was overpriced.
“There are indications that a number of our competitors in the weapons market were suggesting to Baghdad that there was corruption. They have been saying that the real cost of what we will provide is much lower and that the difference will line pockets,” said one source familiar with the negotiations. “When we wrote out the agreement with the Iraqi military, they did not ask those kinds of questions, and there was no talk of corruption.”
Experts also don't rule out the possibility that political factors inside Iraq may be complicating the Russia-Iraq deal. “Part of the Iraqi territory might become part of an independent Kurdistan,” said the Director of the center for strategic analysis Ruslan Pukov. “Representatives from the Kurds in the Iraqi government might be reluctant to arm the central government in Baghdad with the Russian fighter planes and helicopters that might be used against the Kurds.”
If the contract is in fact cancelled, the United States will remain the No. 1 weapons supplier for Iraq -- and Russia will remain second. This would still create good conditions for the long-term growth of Russia in Iraq’s weapons markets, which experts say is full of potential. After the end of the war in Iraq, the country’s defense ministry started a comprehensive re-arming program that has already led to purchases of more than $12 billion from the United States.
Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.
At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.
The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.
The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.
Praying inside a Dutch mosque.
Broken trust in Islamic community
Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.
All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.
It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.
"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.
Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
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