Tim Reid / The Times – 2009-04-02 00:35:43
WASHINGTON (April 2, 2009) — Iraq wants to buy an initial squadron of American F16 fighter jets this year to help to guard against perceived threats from Iran and Syria after US forces leave, the head of the Iraqi Air Force said yesterday.
Lieutenant-General Anwar Ahmed said that he hoped to sign a contract for 18 F16s, manufactured by the technology company Lockheed Martin, as the centrepiece of billions of dollars that Iraq is expected to spend on arms in coming years. “This is very important to us,” he said during a visit to Washington. “It is a priority.”
He said that if funds were made available by the Iraqi parliament his goal was to acquire up to 96 F16s by 2020. The US is also producing the fighter jets for Israel, Pakistan, Poland and Greece.
“We need this aircraft for defence of our country,” General Ahmed said. He mentioned Iran as a potential threat along with Syria, which he said had been a gateway for terrorists who wanted to destabilise the Government of Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister. If the deal is completed this year the first two Iraqi-piloted F16s would be patrolling the skies by 2012, he said. By that time all US armed forces are due to have left Iraq under a bilateral pact that was negotiated last year.
General Ahmed, 54, said that he met a US Air Force team in Baghdad on March 18 to discuss the purchase and held talks with Pentagon officials yesterday.
He added that US officials supported Iraq’s push to acquire the F16, which is one of the most advanced aircraft in the world.
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