US Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley was in Iraq this week for a visit that an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman said included talks on F-16 fighter jets, which Iraq is seeking to buy.
Mohammed al-Askari told state television that Donley’s “visit was intended to speed up the implementation of agreements and mechanisms for using F-16 combat planes, and observation aircraft and air defense systems.”
The television reported that Donley held talks with Acting Defense Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi.
Air Force spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Pat Ryder confirmed to AFP by telephone that Donley “did visit Iraq Tuesday”.
“I believe he has departed, but he was on a trip to meet with airmen and officials there in-country. This is part of a trip to meet with airmen and officials in various locations” that also include stops in Afghanistan, Australia, Singapore and the US Pacific island territory of Guam, Ryder said.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on July 30 that he had revived talks to purchase 36 US F-16 fighter jets, rather than the originally mooted 18.
Maliki said he had signed documents relaunching talks to purchase F-16s from the United States, a deal that had been close to agreement earlier this year but was put off due to widespread protests railing against poor basic services.
The original deal had involved the acquisition of 18 F-16s, but Maliki said the new contract would lead to the purchase of 36.
“The new contract will be larger than what we agreed earlier, to provide security for Iraq,” he said.
Any deal would be worth billions of dollars and take years to implement, as it would require the manufacture of the aircraft and the training of Iraqi pilots.
US Commanders say that while Iraqi Forces have the capacity to maintain internal security, they need further strengthening before they can defend Iraqi air space, territorial waters and borders.
Source: AFP; Khaleej Times