The State Department has told lawmakers informally that the Obama administration wants to sell Iraq more than 4,000 additional Hellfire missiles for the government’s fight against Islamic insurgents, according to people familiar with the plan.
Sale of the laser-guided missiles made by Lockheed Martin Corp. would be in addition to 500 previously purchased, of which about 400 have been delivered.
The U.S. has pledged military aid to Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State, an extremist Sunni group that’s seized a swath of territory north and west of Baghdad. Iraq’s ambassador to the U.S., Lukman Faily, said yesterday in Washington that weapons have been too slow in coming and “further delay only benefits the terrorists.”
Members of the Senate and House foreign relations committees were informed of the planned sales last week and are conducting an informal review of the potential sale that could last as long as 40 days, according to the people, who asked not to be identified in advance of a public notification. That notice would be issued unless lawmakers voice major reservations.
Congress would have 30 days to block a sale after the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency submits a formal notice.
Asked about the potential Hellfire sales, Josh Paul, a spokesman for the State Department bureau in charge of security assistance, said in an e-mail that “as a matter of policy, we decline to comment on cases that have not been formally notified to Congress.”
The remaining Hellfire missiles already sold will be delivered by the middle of this month, according to Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby, also a Defense Department spokesman, said on June 27 that two shifts of workers for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed are “working at full capacity right now to modify and test these missiles and get them on their way.”
The air-to-ground missiles, which typically carry 20-pound armor-piercing or fragmentation warheads, are made at Lockheed’s Troy, Alabama, facility.
Faily, the Iraqi ambassador, called yesterday for immediate American airstrikes to help his government curb the Islamic State’s advances.
“We desperately need United States assistance to turn the tide,” Faily said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “We believe that immediate and increased military assistance, including targeted airstrikes, are crucial to defeat this growing threat.”
President Barack Obama has authorized sending as many as 300 U.S. military advisers to Iraq, with 180 in place so far, to assist the Iraq military and gather intelligence. The administration has said military action alone won’t resolve Iraq’s crisis, pressing for a political solution that depends on a more inclusive government in Baghdad.
Iraq resorted to buying Russian fighter jets only because the Pentagon has been too slow in delivering promised F-16s, Faily said. The F-16s also are made by Lockheed, the largest U.S. defense contractor.
“Our first choice was to buy American-made F-16s,” Faily said. “But the process of delivering those jets do not meet the immediate threat we face.”
The Pentagon has said the F-16 fighters have been scheduled for delivery this fall and haven’t been held up. Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said yesterday that “the Iraqis have been slow” in preparations, including paying for the planes and finding secure locations for them.