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State Department pressing Iraq for answers after report of arms deal with Iran

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Jan. 12, 2014: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki speaks during an interview with Reuters in Baghdad.Reuters

The State Department raised "serious" concerns Monday following a report that claimed Iraq has struck a $195 million arms and ammunition deal with Iran, in possible violation of a U.N. embargo. 

Reuters reported Monday afternoon that documents reviewed by the news service show the two countries reached the agreement in November, shortly after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pressed the Obama administration for more weapons during a visit to Washington. 

Iraqi lawmakers reportedly claimed Maliki ended up striking the deal with Iran because he did not want to keep waiting for U.S. arms deliveries. 

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki disputed any notion that the U.S. has slow-walked weapons deliveries, and said the U.S. is seeking "clarification" from Iraq. "I think the proof of our efforts is in the pudding there, in all of the steps we've taken to move forward, whether it's small ammunitions or a number of the items of military equipment I've mentioned, and that tells you how committed we are to our partnership," Psaki said. 

She could not comment on the accuracy of the Reuters report of an Iran deal but said that "if true, this would raise serious concerns." 

Psaki stressed that any sale of arms by Iran to another country would break a U.N. embargo. 

"We're seeking clarification on this matter from the government of Iraq, and to ensure that Iraqi officials understand the limits that international law places on arms trade with Iran," she said. 

Reuters also reported that the Iraqi prime minister's office would not confirm or deny the alleged deal, but said such an arrangement would be understandable. 

"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," Maliki spokesman Ali Mussawi told Reuters. 

The sale reportedly would include light and medium arms, mortar launchers and various types of ammunition. 

Amid concerns about the swiftness of U.S. arms deliveries, Psaki said the U.S. has provided Iraqi security forces with more than $15 billion in equipment, services and training. 

"We've made a number of shipments recently, including critical deliveries of Hellfire missiles and hundreds of small arms, along with large quantities of small arms and tank ammunition, and we have worked to approve important military equipment to Iraq through our FMS program, including the recent notification of Apache helicopters," she said. "So, we will continue to work closely with them."