WASHINGTON - Iraq's ambassador to the United States Wednesday launched a withering attack on what he said was US slowness to provide basic weaponry to his country's ill-equipped armed forces.
Rejecting suggestions that the Pentagon is reluctant to allow high-tech US weaponry to fall into Iraqi hands, the ambassador told reporters "we're not talking about nuclear submarines" but basic arms like automatic rifles.
Despite being willing to pay out of its own funds, the Iraqi government has been "waiting and waiting and waiting" for Washington to come forward and has had to turn to other suppliers, such as China, for guns, he said.
"There's constant frustration in the Iraqi government about the speed of equipping our armed forces," Sumaidaie said. The Bush administration has come under fierce pressure at home recently to start pulling out of Iraq.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said he sympathized with the ambassador's ire, while attacking the Democratic-led Congress for balking at the Bush administration's own defense spending plans to supply US troops.
"In many ways those are the kind of signs that you want to see, which is an Iraqi government saying we want to be fully equipped and trained," he said.
"We're doing it as rapidly as we can. We understand the frustrations.
"These are matters that the president discusses regularly with the prime minister, and obviously are discussed on a regular basis with others."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in January that the United States could dramatically and quickly cut its troop presence in Iraq if it provided enough weapons to the country's embattled security forces.
The United States is said to have held back from supplying the Iraqi army with large quantities of weapons because some have ended up in the hands of militias and insurgents.
But under a recent "surge" of US troops into Baghdad and surrounding provinces, US commanders are now arming Sunni tribal leaders to take the fight to Al-Qaeda extremists who are accused of stoking Iraq's communal bloodshed.
By the Pentagon's count, there were 353,100 trained and equipped Iraqi security forces as of mid-July. That compares to 158,000 US troops in the country.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman acknowledged "it is clear that there is still much to be done with respect to equipping the security forces" of Iraq.
"But there is a program in place to do it in a very deliberate way, and do it in a way that ensures that they have the type of the equipment they need for the types of missions they are going to be conducting," he said.
The Iraqi embassy was unable immediately to provide a detailed list of the arms it is seeking from the United States, as Congress awaits a pivotal report due in September that Democrats hope to lever into a timetable for withdrawal.
But Sumaidaie said among Iraqi troops' needs are armored personnel carriers to replace their light pickup trucks, which leave them as vulnerable "cannon fodder" while US soldiers patrol in reinforced armor and heavy vehicles.
"This is not helping morale," he said.
In May, Iraq said it was looking to buy more than 1.5 billion dollars' worth of weapons from the United States including helicopters and automatic rifles, such as the M-16, to replace the Iraqi forces' ubiquitous Soviet-designed AK-47 Kalashnikov.
Iraq's Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim Mohammed said at the time a contract had been signed with the United States to set up "a foreign weapons sales office ... to buy modern weapons and to ensure arrival of these weapons when the ministry asks for them."
Also in May, Iran offered weapons and training to the Iraqi army after accusing Washington of not supplying Baghdad with the equipment needed to defend itself.
The offer came from Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, following a landmark meeting with his US counterpart. The two envoys followed up with a second meeting in Baghdad on Tuesday.
This time around, the United States accused Iran of stepping up its alleged support of militia fighters in Iraq, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker admitted afterwards the encounter had been marked by "heated exchanges."
Copyright © AFP 2007