Iraq to buy 36 F-16 fighters from US
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Saturday his government would buy 36 F-16 fighters from the United States, doubling the number of aircraft it had initially planned to buy to strengthen its weak air defences.
The announcement of the deal came as Iraq and the US government discuss whether to keep some US troops or military trainers in the OPEC country after the planned withdrawal of the last American soldiers at the end of the year.
"A delegation from the Iraqi Air Force along with advisers will travel to revive the contract to include a larger number than the contract had agreed before... we will make it 36 instead of 18," Maliki told reporters.
"We have to provide Iraq with airplanes to safeguard its sovereignty," he said.
Iraq's air force is one of the weakest branches of its armed forces, which are still battling insurgents and militias more than eight years after the US-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
Earlier this year, Iraq delayed the purchase of F-16s, made by Lockheed Martin Corp , after putting $900 million of allocated funds into its national food programme to ease pressure from Iraqis staging demonstrations in protest against poor basic services.
Iraq's government is discussing whether to ask for civilian contractors rather than keep US troops on the ground after the withdrawal deadline, according to Iraqi sources. Keeping American soldiers on Iraqi soil is a sensitive issue for Maliki's fragile coalition.