WASHINGTON — Iraq’s embattled government will be allowed to buy and lease Apache attack helicopters to help fight a renewed insurgency after a U.S. lawmaker lifted his long-running objections to the deal, the Pentagon said Monday.
The agreement allows Iraq to lease as many as six Apaches this year and purchase another two dozen for delivery over the next three years, officials said.
Iraq’s military hopes to use the aircraft against militants from the Al Qaeda-linked group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, who have overrun parts of Iraq's Anbar province, including the capital, Ramadi, and the city of Fallouja. The fighting has left hundreds of civilians, soldiers and militants dead and forced thousands of families to flee.
The Pentagon said the Apache leasing deal was worth $1.37 billion and included 152 Hellfire missiles, launchers, night-vision goggles, spare parts and other gear. The U.S. is also preparing to train Iraqi troops in Jordan, officials said.
Delivery of the first leased aircraft is not likely before the summer, and Iraqi pilots and ground crews will still have to be trained, delaying the helicopter's use in combat for months. The purchased Apaches must still be manufactured.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had blocked the deal since July, demanding assurances that Iraq’s military would use the helicopters only against the insurgents and not against civilians opposed to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s government.
Menendez lifted his objections Monday after the State Department promised that Iraq’s use of the aircraft would be monitored, officials said.
Menendez “is satisfied with the end-use monitoring measures that the State Department will exercise to ensure that the Apaches are used in a responsible manner,” said a Menendez aide, who requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations.
Efforts by the White House and Maliki to reassure Menendez intensified in recent weeks as the security situation in Anbar worsened and the Obama administration stepped up efforts to assist the Iraqi leader.
The Pentagon rushed 75 Hellfire missiles, which can be fired from Iraqi helicopters or airplanes, to Baghdad in mid-December and have also sent small arms and ammunition.
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