Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth £117 million in a move that would break a UN embargo on weapons sales by Tehran.
The agreement was reached at the end of November, documents showed, just weeks after Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki returned from Washington, where he lobbied the Obama administration for extra weapons to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants.
Some in Washington are nervous about providing sensitive US military equipment to a country they worry is becoming too close to Iran. Several Iraqi MPs said Mr Maliki had made the deal because he was fed up with delays to US arms deliveries.
A spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister would not confirm or deny the sale, but said such a deal would be understandable given Iraq’s current security troubles.
“We are launching a war against terrorism and we want to win this war. Nothing prevents us from buying arms and ammunition from any party and it’s only ammunition helping us to fight terrorists,” said the spokesman, Ali Mussawi.
The Iranian government denied any knowledge of a deal to sell arms to Iraq.
One US official said such a deal could further complicate Washington’s approach to negotiating with Iran on easing international sanctions over its nuclear programme, which the West suspects is aimed at producing bombs. Iran says its aims are purely peaceful.
“If true, this would raise serious concerns,” the US official said. “Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of Iran’s obligations.”
The official documents showed that six of eight contracts were signed with Iran’s Defence Industries Organisation to supply Iraq with light and medium arms, mortar launchers, ammunition for tanks as well as artillery and mortars.
A final two contracts were agreed to with the state-owned Iran Electronic Industries for night vision goggles, communications equipment and mortar guiding devices.
One of the contracts includes equipment to protect against chemical agents. Officials from the Iraqi and Iranian defence ministries signed the agreements, according to the documents. They did not list a time-table for deliveries.
Mr Maliki is engaged in a nearly two-month-old battle in western Iraq against Sunni al-Qaeda-inspired militants and rebellious tribesmen. The prime minister has blamed the unrest in Anbar on the conflict spilling over from neighbouring Syria.
One Western security official said US government experts believed an Iranian-Iraqi arms deal had been in the works for some time.
The growing friendship between the two countries is discomfiting for the US, which has accused Iran of having shipped arms to the Syrian government through Iraq.
Iran already supplies Baghdad with electricity and gas and reiterated an offer of military assistance in January. The weapons purchases amount to a drop in the ocean for Iraq, which receives most of its arms from the US and has also bought weapons and helicopters from Russia and other countries.