Last updated: 30 July, 2011

Iraq PM pushes US training mission, F-16 deal

Iraq will ask for future defence contracts to include provision for training, bypassing MPs to allow some US soldiers to stay past a year-end pullout deadline, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Saturday.

Maliki also told reporters he had revived talks to purchase 36 American F-16 fighter jets, rather than the originally mooted 18, in a multi-billion-dollar deal that has been on the cards for several months.

“Training missions do not need the approval of parliament,” the premier told a news conference.

“The government will include in agreements to purchase weapons that there should be trainers to train Iraqi forces to use these weapons.”

Maliki said he submitted a report to parliament which concluded Iraq’s security forces still required training on purchased weapons. He did not give details on the report.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said this month that plans for a contingent of US military trainers were gaining traction among Iraqi leaders, but no agreement has yet been reached on the future of the American presence here.

Iraqi leaders have already missed a self-imposed July 23 deadline to reach agreement and, in the past, political deals have rarely been reached during the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which is set to start Monday.

Politicians have previously noted the difficulty of reaching an agreement in parliament on a prolonged American troop presence, as many Iraqis still view US forces, who led a 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, as occupiers.

Maliki said he had signed documents restarting 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 jets, but Maliki said the new contract would lead to the purchase of 36 F-16s.

“The new contract will be larger than what we agreed earlier, to provide security for Iraq,” he said.

Any potential deal would be worth billions of dollars and take years to implement, as it would require the manufacture of the planes and the training of Iraqi pilots.

US commanders say that while Iraq’s forces are able to maintain internal security in the country, improvement is required in protecting Baghdad’s airspace, territorial waters and borders.