September 5, 2008 (by Asif Shamim) - The Wall Street Journal is reporting that US officials are saying that the Iraqi government is seeking to buy 36 advanced F-16 fighters from the US.
A USAF F-16C returns to the fight after receiving fuel on June 10th, 2008 during a mission over Iraq.
This move would reduce the reliance on US airpower and allow extra units to withdraw from the country.
If the multi billion dollar deal clears Washington then it will give the Iraqi government a new powerful tool to use against the countries insurgency.
The F-16 would give Iraq a more potent air force than it had under Saddam Hussein, when the Iraqi air force mainly consisted of Russian and French fighters. However there is a concern from neighbouring countries on providing high-tech weapons to Iraq when the countries government is still struggling for stability.
The sale must be reviewed by the Pentagon, Congress and the State Department. A Defence Department spokeswoman said that the Iraqi government made a request for pricing and availability information on the fighters on August 27 and that it was being reviewed by U.S. officials.
"The request is being reviewed in the normal course of business in the foreign military sales process," the spokeswoman said. The requests don't guarantee a sale as sometimes governments seek the information for planning purposes, she said. A Lockheed Martin spokesman referred questions to the U.S. government.
The US Air Force
currently has 300 helicopters and aircraft in the region supporting operations over Iraq and Afghanistan. The bulk of the force is in Iraq.
Air power is becoming increasingly important in Iraq, where the amount of ordnance dropped by US planes has jumped in recent months as US and Iraqi forces press to eradicate the remnants of al-Qaeda in Iraq and other militant groups.
Officials still argue that Iraq would need American airpower support even after American troop began to pull out of the country. However Iraq is now prepared to invest to get its air force up and running and is becoming one of the biggest arms buyers in world to re-equip its depleted forces. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently told reporters that he wants all American forces out of his country by 2011.
"The [F-16] request itself represents yet another reflection of Maliki's growing confidence in his government and the Iraqi security forces," said Kenneth Katzman, an Iraq specialist at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. "It reflects his continued efforts to gain more independence from the United States on military and security issues."
So far the F-16 has been the most sophisticated weapons system to be requested by the Iraqi government. The pentagon recently announced a $2.4 billion sale of 24 American built attack helicopters to Iraq.
The government is also spending $10 billion on 400 US armoured vehicles, six C-130J transport aircraft and other battlefield equipment. Major suppliers include General Dynamics Corp., Boeing Co. and Raytheon Co.