Russia has taken ties with Iraq to a new level as it hosts Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, for the first time in almost four years.
It has just concluded a huge arms deal with Iraq that is potentially worth as much as $5bn, making Russia Iraq's biggest supplier of weapons after the US.
"One arms deal that would be decisive is Russia and Iraq are negotiating to purchase perhaps MiG-29 missiles, at the same time Iraq is negotiating with the US for F-16 weapons systems. Iraq's decision [in this] would be an indicator of Maliki's alignment."
- Name of Speaker
During his three-day visit, al-Maliki is also expected to discuss the worsening crisis in Syria.
Some see both Baghdad and Moscow as helping prop up Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, by strongly opposing outside intervention in the crisis.
Iraq has echoed Russia's call for a political solution to the conflict, and both countries reject any move aimed at regime change in Syria.
Al-Maliki has defended Iraq's right to buy arms from any source it chooses, saying: "As far as our arms purchasing policies are concerned, we do not ask for anyone's advice first. We do not intent to play the role of being someone's monopoly interests .… We have good relations with the United States and Iran. We do not want to live surrounded by constant conflict. We buy weapons based on the needs that we feel we have."
"The Arab countries are our traditional clients and there is no reason why Russia wouldn't sell weapons to Iraq. I wouldn't see any politics behind it. I think it's just money because Iraq is an Arab state like any other right now and Russia has purely commercial interests there."
- Dmitry Babich, a political analyst, Voice of Russia
Iraq has now become the second-largest importer of Russian arms, after India.And in turn, after the US, Russia is the world's largest arms exporter. It supplies weaponry to 55 countries. Its total exports this year is worth $13.5bn, which is 19 per cent of the annual arms trade.
Syria has been the largest importer of Russian arms in the Middle East. Its arms imports increased 600 per cent between 2007 and 2011, with Russia supplying 78 per cent of these.
Russia has also become the main provider of arms to Iran, which has imported more than $500m of arms in the last three years despite being the target of an arms embargo.
So what is behind Iraq's arms deal with Russia? Are the motives behind the ?deal purely financial; and how will it impact the delicate balance of power in the region?
Joining the Inside Storydiscussion with presenter Mike Hanna are guests: Sabah al-Mukhtar, the president of the Arab Lawyers Association in the UK; Jorge Benitez, the director of the NATOSource blog at the Atlantic Council, and a senior fellow in the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security; and Dmitry Babich, a political analyst for the Voice of Russia radio station.
"Iraq is being re-armed because it has no arms especially that the Americans have left them totally defenceless on every front especially after the withdrawal of the forces and they are not supplying them with arms."
Sabah al-Mukhtar, the president of the Arab Lawyers Association in the UK
Source: Al Jazeera