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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sparks Fly Over U.S. Claims of Sales to Iraq

Washington and Moscow traded barbs over Iraq on Monday, with U.S. President George W. Bush complaining that Russian companies were selling defense equipment to Baghdad and President Vladimir Putin warning that steps must be taken to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq.

In a telephone call initiated by Washington, Bush told Putin he was concerned that a Russian company was helping Iraq jam navigation signals used by U.S. warplanes and cruise missiles, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Fleischer said at an earlier briefing that the United States has credible evidence that Russian companies have provided assistance and prohibited hardware to the Iraqi regime, including night vision goggles, GPS jammers and anti-tank guided missiles.

"These actions are disturbing, and we have made our concerns clear to the Russian government. We've asked the Russian government that any such ongoing assistance cease immediately," he said.

Putin used the phone call to warn Bush about a looming humanitarian catastrophe brought about by war.

"Putin confirmed Russia's stated position on an Iraq settlement and stressed the need to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe in the region," the Kremlin press service said in a statement.

The Kremlin gave no indication of how Putin responded to Bush's complaint, but a number of government and defense industry officials indignantly denied that Russian companies have supplied defense equipment to the Iraqi regime in violation of UN sanctions.

"Russia rigorously observes all its international obligations and has not supplied Iraq with any equipment, including military, in breach of the sanctions regime," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said, responding to a Sunday report in The Washington Post.

The newspaper quoted Bush administration sources as saying that the Instrument Design Bureau of Tula, or KBP, and Aviakonversia in Moscow have supplied Iraq with anti-tank missiles and jamming equipment, respectively. The report said Aviakonversia staff were in Iraq training specialists how to operate the 3-kilogram devices.

While dismissing the report, Ivanov said that if violations of the sanctions regime are found, the guilty parties will be punished in accordance with Russian law.

Ivanov's denial was echoed by Putin aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky and the government's deputy chief of staff, Alexei Volin.

Iraq's ambassador to Russia, Abbas Kunfuth, dismissed the Washington Post report as propaganda.

Aviakonversia and KBP officials also denied selling any equipment.

KBP's foreign trade chief, Leonid Roshal, told Itar-Tass that no Kornet anti-tank missiles had been sold to Iraq. The company's first deputy director, Alexei Butenko, said "nothing ever" had been sent to Iraq. The United States slapped sanctions on KBP in 1999 after it sent Kornets to Syria.

Aviakonversia director general Oleg Antonov described the report as "another CIA provocation."

Antonov, speaking in a telephone interview, said his company has not supplied Iraq with any jammers or sent any personnel to train Iraqi troops.

He said Russian law enforcers checked and cleared his company after the U.S. State Department summoned Russia's ambassador to the United States, Yury Ushakov, in September to protest the alleged sales.

Antonov noted, however, that Aviakonversia's jamming devices cannot be regulated under Russian law because they are assembled outside Russia. He confirmed his company has an office in Moscow but would not elaborate on where the devices are assembled.

Aviakonversia has had to deal with accusations of dealing with Iraq before. Kuwait's Al-Qabas newspaper reported in 2000 that Iraq had used two Aviakonversia jamming devices to force U.S. fighters to abort a patrol of a no-fly zone.

Russian officials and Antonov denied the report.

The Defense Ministry and Rosoboronexport, the state-owned company that accounts for most of Russia's arms exports, also rejected the Washington Post report.

The White House's claims are far from a sign that a major crisis is brewing in U.S.-Russian ties, said Ivan Safranchuk, a researcher at the Moscow office of the Center of Defense Information.

"There is a cloud, but it is not raining," he said.

Safranchuk noted that Kremlin officials have been careful not to antagonize the Bush administration in their criticism of the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq.

Putin, who condemned the war as "a big political mistake" last week, made what might have been a conciliatory gesture Monday and urged Iraq to obey international conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

"We are aware of the conditions in which POWs ... are being held by the U.S. side," Putin told Cabinet members. "I hope that the Iraqi side will also meet all the requirements of international law on keeping POWs."

Putin spoke after hearing a report by Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu on efforts to set up camps in Iran for Iraqi refugees.

In another sign that Moscow does not want to strain relations with Washington, the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, announced Monday that it plans to call for the swift ratification of a U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction treaty. The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, decided last week to postpone the ratification of the Moscow Treaty to protest the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry renewed its calls Monday for an end to the military campaign in Iraq and urged that the Iraq crisis be put back on the agenda of the UN Security Council.

"The United Nations and the Security Council cannot, of course, remain without getting involved in what is happening in Iraq," Foreign Minister Ivanov said.

However, even if convened, the council might fail to pass any resolution condemning the war. Russia, France and Germany, which oppose the use of force in Iraq, tried to convene a council session last week, but their bid fell through due to opposition by the United States and Britain.

Acknowledging the threat of a continued deadlock, Ivanov said changes needed to be made to the Security Council. He said Russia and "its partners" were discussing possible changes.

"Russia has stressed before that the UN and its Security Council need to be reformed to reflect the real situation in the world," he said, without elaborating.

Earlier Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Yury Fedotov suggested that the Security Council provide an assessment of the war -- which in diplomatic language means that the council should hold the United States and Britain responsible for the military campaign and its consequences.