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Russia’s Lavrov in Baghdad to boost military ties

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pushed for stronger military ties with Baghdad during talks with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari on a visit here Tuesday.

“We are ready to continue collaboration in different fields, especially in the military field,” Lavrov told reporters at a news conference. “It is an important element to maintain the sovereignty of Iraq and unity of its land.”

It was unclear how long Lavrov would be staying in Iraq, or which other Iraqi officials he would meet with.

The Iraqi military was dismantled and disbanded shortly after the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, and it has been taking steps to rebuild ahead of this year’s American pullout.

In November, Iraq took delivery of eight Russian-made multi-purpose helicopters in a $156-million deal.

It has also signed an order for 140 American M1A1 Abrams tanks, and inaugurated the first in a fleet of 15 high-speed US-built patrol boats in September.

Iraq was on the verge of signing a $900 million deal with Washington to purchase F-16 fighter jets earlier this year, but diverted the funds to food for the poor amid protests over weak public services.

The 45,000 US troops currently in Iraq must withdraw by the end of the year, according to the terms of a bilateral security pact.