Iraq's order for F-16 fighter jets is likely to double as Iraqi officials press for a larger purchase in negotiations with the United States.
The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is attempting to use defense contracts as a means of ensuring some U.S. troops are able to remain past the withdrawal deadline imposed under the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). This agreement, reached in 2008 between Iraq and the administration of George W. Bush, calls for the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011.
U.S. officials remain wary of the ability of Iraqi Security Forces to maintain complete security over the country in the short term and have pressed Baghdad for an extension to allow a sizable residual force of U.S. "trainers" to remain after the deadline.
The Iraqi F-16 purchase has been in the works for several years. In March 2009, the Iraqi government made a request to the U.S. Department of Defense for the purchase of 36 Lockheed Martin F-16 jet fighters for the Iraqi Air Force. Then in July 2010, the government of Iraq signed an agreement with the U.S. regarding the training of 10 Iraqi Air Force pilots in the U.S.
This was followed by a formal announcement to the U.S. Congress on September 13, 2010 by the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) regarding the potential sale of a batch of 18 F-16IQ aircraft to the Iraqis. The estimated cost of such a sale was placed at $4.2 billion.
This latter sale was moving forward until frozen in February of this year, when domestic unrest caused the government to shift priorities from arming the Iraqi Air Force to alleviating societal needs.
While noting how long it will take to implement the deal, the al-Maliki government is intent on pushing forward on an F-16 contract.