BAGHDAD - Iraq will ask for future defense contracts to include provision for trainers, bypassing MPs to allow some U.S. soldiers to stay past a year-end pullout deadline, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said.
Maliki also told reporters on July 30 that he had revived talks to purchase 36 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 Aug. 1.
Politicians have previously noted the difficulty of reaching an agreement in parliament on a prolonged American troop presence, as many Iraqis still view U.S. forces 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.
U.S. 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.