In a sign that the U.S. Pentagon is preparing further military backing of the government of Nouri al-Maliki, the State Department on Monday granted its approval of the largest shipment to date of Hellfire missiles to Iraq.
The possible Foreign Military Sale includes 5,000 AGM-114K/N/R Hellfire missiles in addition to the "associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $700 million," according to a press announcement by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a division of the Department of Defense. The principal contractor of the sale will be Lockheed Martin Corporation.
The pending approval follows a request from the Iraqi government for the weapons, which they say will be used "to help improve the Iraq Security Forces’ capability to support current on-going ground operations." The forces are currently battling fighters affiliated with rebel group Islamic State, formally Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a report accusing the Iraqi government of killing civilians with "indiscriminate air strikes" supposedly targeting the insurgents. The rights group recorded 75 civilian deaths from 17 airstrikes, the majority of which were in the first half of July.
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According to reporting by the Washington Post, the Iraqi military "burned through its inventory of about 300 Hellfire missiles in June."
"The proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner," the announcement states.
During a Tuesday press briefing, Rear Admiral John Kirby told reporters, "Iraq still is the benefactor of one of the highest foreign military sales programs that we have with any country." Since January, Kirby said, the U.S. delivered a total of 780 Hellfire missiles and are planning to ship another 366 over the course of August. These figures are in addition to the 5,000 that now need Congressional approval.
Kirby also confirmed that there are currently 715 American troops on the ground in Iraq. "And, oh, by the way," he continued, "we're still flying an intensified program of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights, manned and unmanned, over the country, information from which is being shared with Iraqi security forces as appropriate."