Reuters reported Monday night that Iran has signed a deal to sell Iraq arms and ammunition worth $195 million, according to documents seen by a correspondent. If true, the move breaks a UN embargo on weapons sales by the Islamic Republic.
Iraqi President Nouri Al-Maliki signed the weapons deal with Tehran in November, the documents say, just after he returned from a lobbying trip to Washington to ask for more help gaining weapons to fight Al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda has been attempting to take over Sunni areas of Iraq for several months, testing the Shi'ite government after the US pulled out over two years ago. Tensions have simmered over in Iraq's political vacuum, as the Sunni population is still reeling with resentment after the US ousted leader Saddam Hussein in 2003. Syria has also been a gateway to more violence, as Al Qaeda uses the war-torn country as a base to train global jihadists.
Iraqi lawmakers told the agency that the deal stemmed from Al-Maliki's frustration at the US, who had delayed in providing arms out of concerns that they would fall into the wrong hands.
Maliki's spokesperson could not officially confirm or deny the sale, but stressed that the weapons had been badly needed.
"We are launching a war against terrorism and we want to win this war. Nothing prevents us from buying arms and ammunition from any party and it's only ammunition helping us to fight terrorists," said the spokesman, Ali Mussawi.
The documents allegedly show that Tehran sold Baghdad light and medium arms, mortar launchers, ammunition, night vision goggles, communications equipment and mortar guiding devices.
A US official noted to Reuters that the find could have drastic consequences for Tehran's relationship with the UN - and possibly the West as well.
"If true, this would raise serious concerns," said the U.S. official, who declined to be named. "Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of Iran's obligations under UNSCR 1747."
A UN security council official told Reuters on condition of anonymity that the Iran sanctions committee had already been well aware of the deal and had discussed it with Tehran in meetings, but declined to comment further.
Iran and Iraq have become closer since Saddam Hussein's ouster, a phenomenon worrying the US over changing alliances in the already-volatile Middle East, according to the report.
Iran is under Shi'ite rule, and Iraq has a majority Shi'ite population - making them natural allies in the larger sectarian tensions facing the Muslim world. Hussein, a Sunni, hindered all possibilities of a faction-driven alliance; now that Tehran's arch-nemesis is gone, however, the two countries have begun to work closely to fight for a Shi'ite stronghold in the Middle East.
Iran already supplies Baghdad with electricity and gas and reiterated an offer of military assistance in January, according to Reuters. In addition, the former enemies have been working together to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, according to a Kuwaiti report in December.