A White House spokesman confirmed today that Iraq is buying 45 American-made 20-seat helicopters but said the purchase has been designated as a commercial transaction.
The huge helicopters--initially developed to be used as Iranian troop carriers--are now certified as a civilian aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration, said the spokesman, Larry Speakes.
The purchase by Iraq, estimated to cost between $225 million and $275 million, is being viewed by some as an indication that the United States favors Iraq in its 5-year-old Persian Gulf war against Iran, despite official U.S. neutrality in that conflict and the Reagan Administration’s self-imposed embargo of arms sales in the area.
Bell Helicopter Textron of Fort Worth delivered the first of the helicopters to Iraq last July. The State and Commerce departments were aware of the company’s negotiations with Iraq, officials said.
A ‘Dual-Use Item’
But the sale has raised eyebrows at the two federal agencies because of the military potential of the craft--officially earmarked for the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture. One U.S. official said the helicopter was “clearly a dual-use item” with “a potential for military use,” the Washington Post reported.
Others critical of the sale believe it represents a possible violation of the Administration’s ban on arms sales to either side in the Iran-Iraq conflict, which erupted into war Sept. 22, 1980.
While the United States censured Iraq for its use of chemical weapons in its war with Iran, it has continued to seek improved relations with that nation since resuming formal ties in November, 1984, after a 17-year break.