U.S. close to sending largest ever Hellfire missile order to Iraq

July 29, 2014

An Iraqi air force AC-208 Cessna Caravan aircrew launches a Hellfire missile Nov. 8, 2010, at a target on the Aziziyah Training Range, south of Baghdad. The Pentagon is rushing hundreds of Hellfire missiles to Iraq this year as it deals with an increasing threat from Islamist militants. (U.S. Army/Sgt. Brandon Bolick)

The Pentagon signaled Tuesday that it is mulling its largest ever shipment of Hellfire missiles to Iraq as the government in Baghdad digs itself in for a prolonged fight against militants who have taken over hundreds of square miles of territory across western and northern parts of the country.

The State Department has approved the possible sale of 5,000 AGM-114K/N/R missiles and related parts and training, Pentagon officials said. The estimated cost of the deal would be about $700 million, and dwarf previous shipments of Hellfire missiles to Iraq.

The move is not unexpected. Bloomberg News reported July 2 that State Department officials had told lawmakers informally that President Obama’s administration wanted to send at least 4,000 more Hellfire missiles to Iraq.

A former defense official with knowledge of the Hellfire program told Checkpoint earlier in July that while many reports have focused on the question of when Iraq will receive the first of the F-16 fighter jets it has ordered, it was the delivery of more Hellfire missiles that deserved closer attention and could have a more immediate impact in Iraq.

The Iraqi military burned through its inventory of about 300 Hellfire missiles in June as militants from the Islamic State seized territory in numerous parts of the country. Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said last month that the United States would send a total of about 800 more by the end of July. They’re deployed from a few different aircraft, including the Iraqi air force’s AC-208 Cessna Caravan.

Human rights advocates have accused Iraq of indiscriminate airstrikes in numerous areas, including some in the western city of Fallujah using controversial barrel bombs. Last week, Human Rights Watch urged the United States should stop sending weapons to Iraq until the Baghdad government adheres to international law.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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Dan Lamothe · July 29, 2014