Sunday, July 31, 2011

Iraq to Buy 36 US Fighter Jets

Iraq's prime minister said Saturday he was reviving a stalled deal to buy multi-million-dollar fighter jets from the United States and affirmed the need for American trainers to help Iraqi forces operate and maintain the 36 F-16s.

However, Nouri al-Maliki avoided saying whether the trainers would be active-duty troops or private contractors _ sidestepping the key question of whether American military personnel will be asked to remain past an end-of-year deadline for withdrawing. That question is Iraq's top political issue and is being hotly debated among the country's leaders.

The fighter jet deal, which al-Maliki announced at a press conference, more than doubles the number of aircraft Iraq initially planned to buy.

"We should provide Iraq with the means, including warplanes, to protect its sovereignty," al-Maliki told reporters after addressing a closed session of parliament.

It was a turnabout from earlier this year, when Baghdad abandoned the deal and decided instead that it would spend hundreds of millions of dollars on food rations for poor Iraqis.