Baghdad: Iraq on Saturday took delivery of the first 11 of 140 American M1A1 Abrams tanks, just weeks before the US military ends its combat mission here and pulls thousands of its troops out of the country.

The remainder of the order will be completed by the end of 2011, when the US military is due to leave Iraq under the terms of a bilateral security pact.

“Today, Iraq received 11 US-made tanks as part of an agreement with the US to hand over 140 tanks to the Iraqi army,” defence ministry spokesman Major General Mohammed al-Askari told AFP.

“This step is part of preparations by Iraqi forces to take over security responsibilities and build a strong army as the US withdraws.

“This delivery will help to form the military’s first armoured division since 2003.”

In a press statement on August 1, the US army said the tanks would be used on a training site in the Besmaya military base on Baghdad’s southeastern outskirts, which was officially handed back to Iraq at the end of last month.

According to the US army, Iraqi soldiers have been instructed on how to operate the Abrams tanks since 2009, with 60 crews having so far been trained.

The tanks are expected to be used by the 9th Iraqi Army Mechanised Division stationed in the centre of the country.