Iraq called for the US to speed up its weapons deliveries on Thursday as the two countries near a deal on a second set of 18 F-16s, days after Baghdad signed $4.2 billion in arms deals with Moscow.
The contracts with Russia made the country Iraq’s second-biggest defence supplier after the United States, as Baghdad looks to build up its military, which it admits is unable to adequately protect its borders, airspace or maritime territory after US forces withdrew from the country last year.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki pushed for faster deliveries from Washington during talks in Baghdad with Deputy Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter, focusing on an initial set of 18 F-16 fighter jets, currently due for delivery in 2014.
Maliki spoke of the “need for the Iraqi army to develop its defensive abilities to protect Iraq’s security and national sovereignty,” a statement from his office said.
He urged the United States to “speed up the arming of the Iraqi army with what they need in terms of defensive weapons that can protect the sovereignty of Iraq and its independence, and provide a deterrent towards any assault.”
It added that Carter told Maliki he had come to Iraq to discuss Baghdad’s defence and counter-terror needs, and he told the premier that US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta would visit Baghdad soon for similar reasons.
The premier’s spokesman Ali Mussawi told AFP that Maliki in particular pressed for quicker delivery of 18 F-16s, which Iraq had hoped would arrive next year but US officials have said will only be ready by 2014.
Mussawi said Maliki and Carter agreed on further bilateral talks on how to speed up delivery of the fighter jets.
Carter’s visit came soon after Deputy National Security Adviser Dennis McDonough met with top Iraqi officials in Baghdad, discussing the ongoing violence in Baghdad’s western neighbour Syria but also how the US and Iraq could improve their partnership, including on counterterrorism.
Baghdad and Washington, meanwhile, appear close to sealing a deal for a second set of 18 F-16 fighter planes, but US embassy spokesman Frank Finver said the agreement had not been finalised.
“The United States recently presented the government of Iraq with a Letter of Acceptance for a second tranche of 18 F-16 fighter jets and we await confirmation of their acceptance of that LOA,” he said in an e-mail.
“The United States would welcome Iraqi acceptance as another important step in our growing bilateral security assistance relationship.”
Acting Defence Minister Saadun al-Dulaimi, meanwhile, told reporters that Iraq was also interested in Apache helicopters and anti-aircraft weaponry, according to remarks broadcast on state television.
The latest announcements came after Russia unveiled $4.2 billion in arms deals with Iraq on October 9.
Russian media said the deliveries — expected to have been signed in a single package this week — covered 30 Mi-28 attack helicopters and 42 Pantsir-S1 surface-to-air missile systems.
Discussions were also said to be underway for Iraq’s eventual acquisition of a large batch of Russian MiG-29 fighters and helicopters along with heavy weaponry.