Iraq officials seek air defense deal with Gulf

Baghdad moves to secure its airspace in lieu of US withdrawal; Iraqi president's chief of staff says Iraq lacks defense resources.

Iraqi soldier guards fighter plane 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER Iraq)
Iraqi soldier guards fighter plane 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER Iraq)
RIYADH - Iraq is seeking a joint defense agreement for airspace with Gulf countries as it moves to secure its air borders after the departure of US forces from the country this month, a senior official said on Sunday.
Naseer al-Ani, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's chief of staff, told a conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh that Iraq lacked the resources to secure its own air space.
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"In terms of the Iraqi air space sector, I cannot say that we are capable of securing Iraqi air space as the Iraqi... capabilities are limited," Ani said.
He added that Iraq hoped the days when air space might be breached by a hostile power were over, but said:
"We also rely on the proposal to sign a joint agreement with Gulf countries and that is what we hope for and what we are seeking, that there is a joint defense agreement for air space, not only Iraqi air space but for the region as a whole."
It was not clear at what level Iraq had raised the suggestion with other Gulf states, nor how far any discussions had moved or what a joint defense agreement might entail.
Iraq and neighboring Saudi Arabia, a regional heavyweight and key US ally, have had difficult relations since a US-led invasion ousted the former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003.
US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks detailed Saudi fears that the Shi'ite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was under the influence of Riyadh's regional rival Iran.
Saudi Arabia feared the emergence of Maliki as a dominant figure in Iraq augured a shift in the regional power balance that would be played out along sectarian lines between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim communities across the Middle East.