U.S. Cleared to Sell Attack Helicopters and Missiles to Iraq

Congress removes a key hurdle to delivering the choppers and weapons systems to help the nation fight its al-Qaeda insurgency

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Congress approved on Monday the delivery of six Apache helicopters to Iraq, the first shipment in what will be a $4.8 billion deal to help Baghdad battle an ever-growing insurgency in the country.

A plan by the Defense Department to sell as many as 24 AH-64E Apache helicopters hit a hurdle in recent weeks, as New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, blocked the deal, pending assurances that the Iraqi government would not use the helicopters against civilians. On Monday, Menendez removed his objections, clearing the way for the Pentagon to proceed with the first phase of the transfer, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been battling al-Qaeda-linked fighters in western Anbar province for weeks and has lobbied for more American weapons and intelligence; however, the Apache deal is not likely to impact the fighting in the near future. The Pentagon first plans to lease six Apaches to Iraq, which they will deliver this summer, to allow for Iraqi pilots to be trained on the aircraft. Then the sale of 24 Apaches and as many as 500 Hellfire missiles will take place over the next three years, according to the New York Times.

Amid the fighting in Anbar, the U.S. delivered 75 Hellfire missiles to Iraq in December. Meanwhile, violence continues across other parts of Iraq; on Sunday, shootings and car bombings killed nine people in Baghdad and as far north as Kirkuk, 180 miles away.