Controversy Surrounds Alleged Iraq-Iran Arms Deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif (L) and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari attend a joint news conference, Baghdad, Jan. 14, 2014 (photo by REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani).In a Feb. 4 interview with the semi-official Iranian Tasnim News Agency, Mohammed Majid al-Sheikh, Iraq’s ambassador to Iran, was reported to have revealed his country’s intention to strike a deal to buy weapons from Iran. The agency quoted Sheikh as saying, “Some well-informed sources said that the Iranian-Iraqi talks came in light of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense’s vision of the need to supply the Iraqi army with Iranian-made military equipment, given their efficiency and importance.”

This style of statement is inconsistent with the ambassador’s official role, which is to present the official position of the Iraqi government, from official Iraqi sources, not from “well-informed sources.” This calls into question the validity of this supposed news, especially since it has not been confirmed by Iranian authorities or the Iraqi officials typically involved in such deals.

Mohammed Ugail, a member of the ruling coalition in Iraq, had declared in a Jan. 17 interview with a Russian website that the Iraqi government was seeking to strike arms deals with Egypt as well as Iran. In addition, several newspapers and news websites have reported on an Iraqi purchase of Iranian weapons, giving the story additional impetus by claiming that the deal has already been sealed. They quote Sheikh as having said, “Iraq signed a memorandum of understanding with Iran to buy weapons and military equipment.”

Iraqi Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi had traveled to Iran on Sept. 23, it is thought to discuss ways to promote defense cooperation between the two countries. His visit followed that of Iraqi parliament Speaker Osama al-Najafi, to offer condolences to the commander of the al-Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, on the death of his mother.

Rumors have circulated since that talks were held on paving the way for concluding deals for Iraq to buy weapons from Iran. This raised concerns among the Iraqi opposition parties, with some parliamentarians of the Iraqiya List expressing fear of possible repercussions of such a deal on the US-Iraqi relationship, not to mention reservations about the quality of Iranian weapons, since Iran is not considered in the league of developed countries in arms production.

Iran’s defense minister, Mohammed Hijazi, denied reports of a deal with Iraq, while at the same time expressing his country’s readiness to aid Baghdad in its war against al-Qaeda. In addition, Hassan Dana’I Fer, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, declared that Baghdad had not made a request to purchase weapons from Iran. Members of the Iraqi parliament’s Security and Defense Committee claimed to be unaware of any information about an arms deal between Iraq and Iran.

Given that the news of a deal was allegedly announced by an Iraqi official but later refuted by officials from both Iran and Iraq, the possibility exists that it was an attempt to gauge the pulse of the Iraqi public’s reaction to such a deal, as well as that of other parties, including the United States. Therefore, although this “news” appears to be false — as there is no evidence to support it, and there is plenty of evidence against it — it could become a reality in the near future, given that Iraq needs urgently to arm its military, especially since previous arms deals with the United States and Russia faced some difficulties and barriers.

Regardless of whether the news of a deal with Iran is true, such a decision is not likely to be to Iraq’s advantage for a number of reasons. First, it would exacerbate the tense sectarian atmosphere, since the Iraqi government has been accused by its Sunni opponents of being led by Iranians and working according to their agenda. Striking an arms deal with Tehran would give additional legitimacy to these claims.

Second, Iranian weapons are reproductions of Russian arms. Thus, Iraq would be better off buying from the original source. It is to Iraq’s benefit to resolve the problems and barriers in arms deal with the major powers, rather than resorting to deals with Iran. Third, an understanding is likely to irritate the United States, which has an arms contract with Iraq as part of their security agreement. Fourth, a deal would alleviate sanctions pressure on Iran, which the United States is seeking to keep in check using a carrot-and-stick approach.

It seems that news of an arms deal with Iran has been blown out of proportion within the context of Iraq’s sectarian and political conflict. A deal, however, remains on the agenda of the Baghdad government, which faces real problems in equipping the army and providing intelligence support to deal with ongoing insecurity.

Translated by Sahar Ghoussoub.

Assyrian International News Agency

Libyan armed group surrounds Tripoli airport

A Libyan armed brigade has surrounded Tripoli’s international airport, forcing flights to be diverted to the capital’s military airport, a security official revealed.

The official said on Monday that the group, called al-Awfea Brigade, from the town of Tarhouna, 80km southeast of Tripoli, demanded the release of one of their leaders who they said had disappeared two nights ago.

“The situation in the airport is very tense and tanks are surrounding the buildings. No one is allowed into the building,” the official, who declined to be named, said.

Al Jazeera’s correspondent Omar al-Saleh in Benghazi that the group ”have heavy weapons and they are not allowing flights to land or take off. All flights have been diverted”.

The ruling National Transitional Council spokesman Mohammed al-Harizy said the Awfea head, Colonel Abu Oegeila al-Hebeishi was kidnapped by unknown armed rebels while travelling between Tarhouna and Tripoli late last night.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Mystery Surrounds ‘Cyberattack’ On Iranian Oil Facilities

Iran says it is investigating a suspected cyberattack on its main oil-export terminal and on the Oil Ministry itself. As of April 24, no signs of lasting damage had been discovered, but what do we know about the attack and its potential effect on Iran’s oil industry?

RFE/RL correspondent Antoine Blua discussed these issues with Boldizsar Bencsath, assistant professor at the Laboratory of Cryptography and Systems Security (CrySyS) in Budapest.

RFE/RL: Iran has set up a crisis committee to counter what officials described as a “cyberattack.” Officials said a data-deleting virus hit the Internet and communications systems of the Iranian Oil Ministry and national oil company late on April 22, forcing Iran to temporarily disconnect the control systems of a number of oil facilities to curb the virus. What do we know for certain about this attack?

Boldizsar Bencsath: Actually, we don’t know too much except the statements from Iran. We don’t have any sample or any other information to decide what it actually was. Many suspect that this was a targeted attack done by some kind of malware. But actually we don’t have any proof or detailed information on that.

RFE/RL: If it’s not a virus, could it be a technical failure inside the Oil Ministry’s own communications systems?

Bencsath: Yes it can be, but most of the time Iran does not [acknowledge] glitches of the technical stuff. So whenever they accept or acknowledge any type of problem, it has a serious background most of the time.

RFE/RL: What makes a cyberattack seem likely?

Bencsath: We suspect a virus or malware activity because we’ve already seen some of these types of attacks against Iran.

The first was Stuxnet — that was a targeted attack done by a self-reproducing malware that spread across the network [in 2009-10] and it was directly targeting Iranian uranium-enrichment facilities.

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Cybersecurity expert Boldizsar Bencsath

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The second was the Duqu malware that we identified in a network in Europe. This was again a targeted attack, but [it was] not spreading all over the network — just sent to specific computers.

For these reasons, most likely it is possible to have another virus or just a modification of Duqu [targeting] the oil industry.

But there is no evidence that it is connected.

There was a third virus called Stars that was [reported] by Iran nearly one year ago. Official statements or news were spread on April 25, 2011.

That seems very suspicious that we have just [arrived at] the first anniversary for the Stars virus or malware. And for this Stars malware we don’t know too much as well. Iran did not share samples with the [antivirus] industry. So no one knows what Stars was actually.

RFE/RL: Iranian officials have accused the United States and Israel of these cyberattacks. Why would a country put a virus inside the network of Iran’s oil industry?

Bencsath: There can be a lot of different targets for malware. Speaking about Duqu, it can be used first of all to steal data by grabbing the keyboard input, grabbing the screen, and saving all this information, as well as downloading files, modifying files, [or] deleting files.

But it is also possible to do nearly everything — to go to from one computer to the other if the authentication system accepts it or using exploits.

And finally, if your systems are connected to servers or industrial control systems, then you can also modify different things on them.

RFE/RL: Iran says it has suffered no lasting damage from the latest cyberattack, and it hopes to have all systems back up and running within days. Iran has also given assurances that little damage was caused by the previous attacks. Are these claims credible?

Bencsath: Let’s take some scenarios. First of all the attackers infected an office computer and from this office computer they could reach a server and they gathered administrative rights and finally they deleted [data from this server].

Then most likely you have a backup — maybe a hot backup or a cold backup system. They switch on this machine and everything is back to normal.

The other way is that you have tape backups or different drives that contain the data that the server used to have. If you start this recovery process, it just takes hours or days to recover the server and go back to work.

RFE/RL: Couldn’t it take more time in some more dramatic cases?

Bencsath: Of course it is even possible that [the attackers] used this virus for a long time and they corrupted backups. For example, they put false information during the backups on the tapes or whatever.

In this case it is much harder work to get the system back to normal. But it also depends on what types of data you have on the server. If it contains just normal programs, then it is not a problem to install them again.

If they contain important information like parameters for control systems or whatever then it takes much more time to rebuild your system or recover your status.

So, without details on how problematic this case is, we cannot judge if oil production will be interrupted for hours or for weeks or if it didn’t affect any of these activities — [but] just office networks.”

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

* Confusion Surrounds Exxon Iraq Decision

Reuters reported at the weekend that Iraq’s government has received a letter from Exxon Mobil saying the it had frozen its deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), but other reports say this has not happened.

“We received a letter from Exxon on March 5 saying they are freezing the contract with the Kurds,” oil minister Abdul Kareem Luaibi [Elaibi] told the news agency Reuters.

He added that the Iraqi government had not yet reversed its intention to exclude Exxon Mobil from its next oil bidding round, but said “maybe in a few days” Baghdad could change its position if Exxon clarified its decision.

However Fuad Hussein, head of the office of Kurdistan President Massoud al-Barzani, said: “Exxon has not mentioned anything like this yet and Exxon has not frozen its contract with Kurdistan region.”

Exxon is still working in Kurdistan region and Exxon senior executives never mentioned such thing in our meetings, he added.

Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson said earlier this month that the company was committed to both exploring in Kurdistan, as well as to expanding its West Qurna output in southern Iraq.

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