U.S. quietly starts channeling arms from $1.6 billion fund to Iraq

WASHINGTON - The United States has quietly started delivering promised arms for Iraqi soldiers from a $1.6 billion fund approved by Congress last year, officials said, following mounting Iraqi frustration over the pace of coalition assistance.

WASHINGTON - The  United States  has quietly started delivering promised arms for Iraqi soldiers from a $1.6 billion fund approved by  Congress  last year, officials said, following mounting Iraqi frustration over the pace of coalition assistance.

The  Pentagon  said long-awaited equipment from the  Iraq  Train and Equip Fund (ITEF) started being fielded about two weeks ago and was moving as fast as possible. Officials noted extensive, previous arms transfers under different U.S. authorities.

Iraq 's Prime Minister  Haider al-Abadi  laid bare his frustrations at a gathering in  Paris  this week, saying  Baghdad had received "almost none" of the promised international assistance.

"They're complaining the program is too slow. But the fact is it's a slow system," said Douglas Ollivant, a former Iraq  adviser in the Obama and Bush administrations.

By contrast, he added, "they tell the Russians they want fighter planes and they show up in a month."


The first U.S. material provided to Iraqi forces under ITEF outfitted an  Iraqi army  brigade with rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, mortars, protective masks and other gear.

And more arms were on the way,  Pentagon  spokeswoman Commander  Elissa Smith  said.

"This is the first of several planned unit equipment issues for the coming weeks, which will include Peshmerga units," said Smith, referring to Kurdish forces.

She said the first issue of equipment from the fund to  Iraq's army  occurred the week of May 18th, the same week that Ramadi fell to Islamic State, handing the  Iraqi military  its biggest defeat in nearly a year. A delivery of AT-4 anti-tank weapons last weekend also came from the fund, she said.

"We are, in terms of ITEF, still close to its starting point," a  U.S. government  official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.


Pentagon  document completed last year detailed plans for ITEF to provide a host of U.S. equipment, ranging from 45,000 pieces of body armor for Iraqi forces to 14,400 M4 rifles for Kurdish forces. Sunni fighters would get 5,000 AK-47 assault rifles. (Click to read the document.)

U.S. officials acknowledge that a big test of the program will be getting the Shi'ite-led government in  Baghdad  to arm Sunni tribes, a crucial step, they say, toward reconciliation.


While arms are just part of a broader U.S. effort that includes air strikes, training and surveillance, the Iraqis see the pace of the weapons flow from Washington as one of the few measurable gauges of President  Barack Obama 's commitment to the fight - and they say the deliveries are too slow. Obama has already ruled out any major deployment of "boots on the ground."

Still, some U.S. officials feel that Abadi's complaints about weapons and other assistance broadly reflect domestic pressure, particularly after the fall of Ramadi last month.

"He's feeling pressure from all sides," one official said.

The  Pentagon  has cited coalition deliveries of tens of millions of rounds of ammunition and hundreds of vehicles to  Iraq  since last summer. The bulk of these were provided through different authorities than ITEF, such as coalition donations and traditional foreign military sales.

"A lack of weapons and ammunition is not the central problem," said a U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, citing instead "vulnerabilities in organization and leadership" of  Iraq 's security forces.

U.S. officials appeared to play down concerns about whether  Iraq  would be able to secure newly-provided weapons, after abandoned U.S.-provided arms and vehicles repeatedly ended up in Islamic State hands over the past year.

"Loss of weapons is an inherent risk when arming an allied military during active conflict," the military official said. 

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