The first F-16 Fighting Falcon for the Iraq Air Force makes its first flight. (Lockheed Martin)
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon pushed back Friday on comments made by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki that the US is slow-rolling a sale of Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters to Baghdad.
“There’s been no slow-rolling,” Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby told reporters at a press briefing on Friday.
Al-Maliki in an interview with BBC Arabic said the US’s “long, very slow way” has delayed the delivery of 36 fighter aircraft. He said Iraq would purchase used fighter jets from Russia and Belarus in the interim to combat Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters, which have taken over cities in northern and western Iraq.
Kirby said the first two F-16s are scheduled for delivery in the fall as has been planned for months.
“I don’t know how one can make the case that we’re slow-rolling it when they weren’t even supposed to be delivered for another few months,” Kirby said. “We’re still committed to the program. We’re still committed to the sale. And the process continues to churn, even given the unrest in Iraq.”
ISIL fighters have threatened Balad Air Base, where Iraq plans to station the F-16s, according to reports. This has forced contractors preparing for the aircraft to leave the area.■