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Iraq denies reports it bought weapons from Iran

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

The Iraq government Tuesday denied reports that it had signed contracts to buy weapons, ammunition or other military equipment from Iran but the White House nevertheless pressed for answers at the highest levels.

Iraq’s Ministry of Defense said numerous international firms, including Iran’s Defense Industries Organization, recently submitted offers to provide Iraq with military hardware. However, it said, the proposal from Iran was rejected.

"Based on the need of our armed forces for some ammunition for light weapons and night vision equipment to fill the shortage of some of our military units, offers were submitted from several international firms,” the defense ministry said in a statement. “In addition to the Iranian Defense Industries Organization, which submitted their bids and delivery schedules, preference was given to other companies and no contract was signed with the Iranian company.”

The other companies were in countries including Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia, China, Ukraine and Pakistan, Iraq said.

Reuters reported Monday that Iran reportedly had signed a $195 million deal with Iraq to sell it arms and ammunition, a violation of a U.N. embargo that had the White House pressing Baghdad for answers.

“We raised our concerns at the highest level with the government of Iraq,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. “Iraq assured us it will look into the matter.”

The agreement was reached at the end of November, according to documents reviewed by Reuters.

The two countries were supposed to have struck the deal 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 made the deal with Iran because he did not want to keep waiting for U.S. arms deliveries.

"Any transfer of arms from Iran to a third country is in direct violation of UNSCR 1747,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, referring to the U.N. resolution that imposed an arms embargo on Iran.

She also disputed the suggestion the United States has slow-walked weapons deliveries.

"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.

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."